Fact or

fiction?

Identifying what’s true and what’s not about the prevention and treatment of the flu.

 

So what should you do if you have the flu?

Take vitamin C? Gargle salt water? Eat garlic? When it comes to treating the flu, everyone has their favorite home remedies for the flu. But do they actually work?

Here we break through some of the ‘conflusion’ by identifying what’s fact and what’s fiction when it comes to preventing and treating the flu. And what’s more, if you click on a panel below you can learn more about that particular topic.

To get you started, we’ve split out topics into three sections, depending on whether you’re interested in antivirals vs. over-the-counter medications, flu vaccines, or symptom relief.

True? or false?

Flu antivirals vs. over-the-counter remedies

You need a prescription for antiviral flu medication.

True

You need a prescription for antiviral flu medication

Antiviral flu medications are only available with a prescription.1 They are most effective when taken within 48 hours of developing flu symptoms,2 so speak to your doctor when you think you have the first signs of the flu.

Antibiotics are a good treatment for the flu

False

Antibiotics are a good treatment for the flu

Antibiotics will not work to treat the flu, as these treat bacterial infections and not those caused by viruses such as influenza.1,3 They might help treat some of the bacterial complications that the flu can cause, but will not have an effect on the flu virus itself.3

Over-the-counter flu medicines can cure the flu.

False

Over-the-counter flu medicines can cure the flu

If you’re wondering what to take for the flu, you might consider one of the many over-the-counter flu medicines available. But often these just provide short-term relief from the symptoms of the flu.4 Antivirals are different: they actively treat the flu virus that is causing the symptoms.5

The flu vaccine

The flu vaccine can give you the flu.

False

The flu vaccine can give you the flu

You cannot catch the flu from an influenza vaccine - this is because:6,7

  • Most vaccines do not contain live flu viruses – the viruses are inactive, and the vaccine helps your body’s immune system recognize the flu so that it can fight it more effectively if you become infected
  • Some vaccines (called ‘live attenuated influenza vaccine’) do contain a live flu virus, but the virus has been engineered so that it cannot infect your cells and replicate as it normally would. Instead, your body’s immune system learns to recognize the flu so that it can fight it more effectively if you are exposed to the same type of flu virus again in the future
    • You will probably have already received a live attenuated vaccine in your lifetime, as they are also used to protect against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR); and varicella (chicken pox)

Your doctor will always recommend the most appropriate flu vaccine for you and be able to answer any questions or concerns you may have. 

Only high risk groups such as pregnant women and older people need a flu shot

False

Only high risk groups such as pregnant women and older people need a flu shot

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older should get an annual flu vaccine,6 unless they have a specific contraindication.8 People in high-risk groups are especially encouraged to get the flu vaccine because of the added complications they can encounter if they catch the flu.9

You don’t need a flu vaccine every year

False

You don’t need a flu vaccine every year

The flu virus is constantly changing, and so new vaccines are developed each year to tackle particular types of the flu. In addition, your immune system can ‘forget’ what a flu infection looks like and so needs reminding.6 This is why the CDC recommends getting the flu shot every year.6

A flu vaccine protects you from all types of the flu

False

A flu vaccine protects you from all types of the flu

Even if you’ve been given the flu vaccine, you could still catch the flu. This is because the virus evolves quickly, so in one flu season there may be several different types (or ‘strains’) of flu. As a result, flu strains can emerge that vaccines have not been designed to defend against.9 This makes some people question flu shot effectiveness, however studies have shown that the flu vaccine is still one of the most effective ways to protect yourself from the flu overall, and provides a number of benefits.10,11

Some people are allergic to flu shot ingredients

True

Some people are allergic to flu shot ingredients

Some flu vaccines are made using eggs, which some people may be allergic to. However, people with egg allergies can receive any licensed, recommended age-appropriate influenza vaccine and no longer have to be monitored for 30 minutes after receiving the vaccine. People who have severe egg allergies should be vaccinated in a medical setting and be supervised by a health care provider who is able to recognize and manage severe allergic conditions.6

There is no difference between a vaccine and an immunization

False

There is no difference between a vaccine and an immunization

Although we often use the words vaccine and immunization to mean the same thing – they are different. Immunization refers to the process a person’s body goes through after receiving a vaccine. The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older should get an annual flu vaccine,6 unless they have a specific contraindication.8 People in high risk groups are especially encouraged to get the flu vaccine because of the added complications they can encounter if they catch the flu.9

Flu symptom relief

The flu is just a bad cold – the symptoms are the same

False

The flu is just a bad cold – the symptoms are the same

Although colds and the flu are both infectious diseases and share some of the same symptoms, they are very different illnesses:12

  • You may feel unwell with a cold but be able to carry on with everyday life, however the flu can cause fatigue and weakness that might mean you’ll need to spend a few days in bed
  • A cold usually develops gradually while the flu can appear much more suddenly
  • The flu can result in the development of very serious complications, whereas colds generally do not

Chicken soup can cure the flu

False

Chicken soup can cure the flu

Sorry chicken soup fans. There is no evidence to suggest that chicken soup, or any food in fact, can cure the flu. However, soup recipes often contain ingredients that can keep your body nourished while fighting an infection, and the liquid in soups and broths could help you stay hydrated.

The flu isn’t a serious illness

False

The flu isn’t a serious illness

While most people who catch the flu make a full recovery, for some there can be complications, resulting in much more serious illness or even death. In Singapore, influenza results in up to 1,500 hospitalizations each year, and as many as 600 influenza-associated deaths.13,14

Antivirals can help ease symptoms of the flu

True

Antivirals can help ease symptoms of the flu

Antivirals actively fight the flu virus itself, preventing it from reproducing.1,5 When taken within 48 hours of first noticing flu symptoms,2 antivirals can lessen the effects of the flu, help you get better sooner, and reduce the risk of flu complications.14,15

If you’re looking for advice on how to treat the flu, speak to your doctor and ask about antivirals.

Think you’ve got the flu? Call or visit your doctor to discuss if an antiviral flu medication might be right for you

If you get sick this flu season, it’s important to speak to your doctor or health care provider as soon as possible.

Find out more about the flu in your local area using the MOH Weekly Infectious Diseases Bulletin.

References

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What You Should Know About Influenza (Flu) Antiviral Drugs: Fact Sheet, 2016. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pdf/freeresources/updated/antiviral-factsheet-updated.pdf. Last accessed: November 2018.
  2. Lehnert R et al. Dtsch Arztebl Int 2016; 113(47): 799–807.
  3. Low D. Clin Microbiol Infect 2008; 14(4): 298–306.
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptom relief, 2018. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/antibiotic-use/community/for-patients/symptom-relief.html. Last accessed: November 2018.
  5. Stiver G. CMAJ 2003; 168(1): 49–56.
  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Key Facts About Seasonal Flu Vaccine, 2018. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/keyfacts.htm. Last accessed: November 2018.
  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Understanding How Vaccines Work, 2018. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/hcp/conversations/downloads/vacsafe-understand-color-office.pdf. Last accessed: November 2018.
  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vaccination: Who Should Do It, Who Should Not and Who Should Take Precautions, 2017. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/whoshouldvax.htm. Last accessed: November 2018.
  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People at High Risk of Developing Serious Flu–Related Complications, 2018. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/disease/high_risk.htm. Last accessed: November 2018.
  10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Misconceptions about Seasonal Flu and Flu Vaccines, 2018. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/misconceptions.htm. Last accessed: November 2018.
  11. Talbot HK et al. Clin Infect Dis 2013; 56(12): 1774–1777.
  12. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cold Versus Flu, 2018. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/coldflu.htm. Last accessed: November 2018.
  13. Ang LW, et al. Emerg Infect Dis 2014; 20:1652–60.
  14. Chow A, et al. Emerg Infect Dis 2006;12:114–21.
  15. Tsang TK et al. Trends Microbiol 2016; 24(2): 123–133.
  16. Allen UD et al. Can J Infect Dis Med Microbiol 2006: 17(5): 273–284.