The truth about flu: 6 facts

Jan 12, 2022

With flu infections rising, brush up on the facts about this contagious respiratory illness — and learn why getting your flu shot is essential.

If you’ve ever had the flu, you know how miserable it can be. Symptoms can include fever, body aches, sore throat, and cough, and in severe cases people with the flu can end up in the hospital.

This year, with COVID-19 infections surging again, it’s especially important to protect yourself against the flu. Here are 6 important flu facts.

Flu fact 1: The flu is worse than a cold.

People often use the term “flu” to refer to a cold or other respiratory illness. But the flu is much worse. It’s a highly contagious viral infection.

In most cases, the flu goes away on its own. But in some cases, the flu can be serious, leading to dangerous complications such as pneumonia or dehydration. And each year, hundreds of thousands of people in the United States are hospitalized with the flu, and tens of thousands of people die.

Flu fact 2: Getting a flu shot each year is your best defense against the flu.

Flu viruses change, and each year’s flu vaccine is created to fight the latest strain. In addition, the immunity you get from a flu shot only lasts about a year.

Many of the good habits you’ve developed to prevent COVID-19 are also effective in preventing the flu. These include wearing a mask outside of your home, washing your hands frequently, and avoiding touching your mouth and eyes. But a flu shot is the only thing we have that specifically targets the flu, so getting vaccinated is your best defense.

Flu fact 3: The flu shot works.

The flu vaccine reduces the risk of flu by 40% to 60%, according to recent studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Even if you get the flu after being vaccinated, it can make your symptoms less severe. A 2021 study showed that adults who got the flu after being vaccinated had a 26% lower risk of being admitted to the intensive care unit and a 31% lower risk of death than those who were unvaccinated.

Flu fact 4: It is safe for children to get a flu shot.

The flu vaccine is safe for children 6 months and older and can even be lifesaving. Vaccination is especially important for children who are younger than 5, or for children of any age who have a high-risk medical condition, because they are more likely to develop serious flu complications that can lead to hospitalization and death. Other people at high risk of complications from the flu include adults 65 and older, pregnant people, and people with chronic conditions.

Flu fact 5: You can’t get the flu from a flu shot.

We all know people who swear they got the flu from a flu shot. But the flu shot can’t make you sick because it doesn’t contain a live virus.

It takes about 2 weeks for the vaccine to start preventing flu, so if you get sick after receiving your flu shot, chances are you were infected with the flu before getting vaccinated.

Flu fact 6: It is safe to get a flu shot and a COVID-19 vaccination or booster at the same time.

No waiting period is needed between the 2 vaccinations, so it’s safe to get your flu shot even if you’ve just gotten a COVID-19 vaccination or booster, and it’s safe to get a COVID-19 vaccination or a booster even if you just got the flu shot. At some Kaiser Permanente facilities, you may be able to get both shots during the same visit.

Getting both vaccines on the same day won’t cause additional side effects. If you do have side effects, you can expect typical reactions such as temporary fatigue, soreness, or mild fever.

Visit kp.org/flu to find flu shot locations near you.

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