Myth #1: The flu is just a bad cold.

Truth #1: The flu can cause mild to severe illness and can even be deadly.

The flu virus, also known as influenza, infects the nose, throat and sometimes the lungs. 

Flu symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle of body aches
  • Fatigue 
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Most people who get the flu will only experience a mild case and can get relief with over-the-counter medications, but some people will develop more serious or life-threatening complications.
Complications of the flu include:

  • Sinus infections
  • Ear infections
  • Pneumonia
  • Worsening of existing chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes or heart failure

The most recent data available from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is from the 2019-2020 flu season. In that timeframe, 35 million people were estimated to have been infected with the flu. There were 16 million medical visits for the flu and 380,000 hospitalizations because of the flu. Twenty thousand people died from the flu. 

Some flu symptoms and COVID-19 symptoms are the same. Testing for the influenza virus and the COVID-19 virus is the best way to get a definitive diagnosis. Both are a simple swab of the back of the nose (towards the throat) that should be available through your doctor’s office. Depending on your diagnosis, treatment will be different. 

Myth #2: Healthy people don’t need to be vaccinated against the flu.

Truth #2: Anyone can get the flu, even young, healthy people.

While some people are at a higher risk than others of complications due to the flu, anyone can get the flu. The flu shot is recommended for everyone six months and older, with some rare exceptions. The CDC recommends that even pregnant women and people with certain chronic conditions get vaccinated against the flu.

The flu vaccine protects you from getting sick with flu and reduces the severity of your symptoms if you do get sick. Getting vaccinated against the flu also protects those around you, especially people who are more likely to get severely ill or experience complications. Children under the age of 2 and adults over the age of 65 are the most vulnerable groups. 

Myth #3: I don’t need to get the flu shot every year.

Truth #3: Immunity from the flu shot lasts a limited amount of time. Also, the virus that causes the flu changes each year.

You should get the flu shot every year because immunity from your vaccine wears down over time. The effects of the vaccine generally only last one flu season, so getting a yearly flu shot is the best way to maintain immunity. Also, the flu shot is slightly different each year because it is tailored to the most dominant strains of the virus. Getting a yearly flu shot will ensure you get the strongest, most up-to-date protection possible. 

Myth #4: It’s not peak flu season, so it’s too early to get a flu shot.

Truth #4: The best time to get a flu shot is in October, before peak flu season.

Peak flu season is between December and January, but you should get your flu shot before the virus starts spreading in your community. Early fall is the best time to get your flu shot, ideally in September or October. The CDC recommends you receive a flu shot by the end of October each year.

Myth #5: I can’t remember the last time I had the flu, so I probably won’t get it this year.

Truth #5: The 2022-2023 flu season is expected to be more severe than in recent years with more widespread infection.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the flu season was milder than average, according to the CDC. Mask mandates, social distancing, a better awareness of hand washing hygiene and people being more vigilant about staying home when sick prevented the flu from spreading as much as usual. However, as protective measures against COVID-19 relax, the risk of infection (for any virus, flu and COVID-19 alike) increases. 

Also, this season’s flu strains are expected to lead to more flu cases. U.S. infectious disease experts base their flu season predictions on data from the Southern Hemisphere, where flu season peaks sooner. This year, Australia had its worst flu season in recent years, with infection rates surpassing pre-pandemic levels. This indicates flu cases in our area will likely be higher than usual.

With the COVID-19 virus still circulating in the community and more widespread flu expected, it is more important than ever to get vaccinated to protect yourself and others. You can get both the COVID-19 vaccine and flu vaccine at the same time. We encourage you to get a flu shot wherever it is convenient for you. Many local pharmacies and retailers offer walk-in vaccinations. You can also receive your flu shot through the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin health network.

Sonya Hollingsworth, MD, is a family medicine physician who sees patients at the Froedtert & MCW Manitowoc Harbor Town Clinic. The clinic is located at 1650 S. 41st Street in Manitowoc. 

For the most up-to-date information about the flu, visit froedtert/com/flu

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