10 common myths about the flu virus

Here’s a challenge: find someone who has never had the flu. Having trouble finding that person? No surprise really. Each year, more than one in ten employees in Belgium are absent from work for up to seven days due to the flu virus. Let’s look at some of the common myths surrounding this virus, as well as some handy tips on how to avoid spreading the disease.

1. “The flu is nothing more than a bad cold”

It is easy to confuse the two, since the symptoms are so similar.

However, the flu virus – or influenza – is a different virus altogether. Essentially, the flu is a viral infection of the airways, but those suffering from a heavy bout often also experience severe muscle pain and a high fever. Other symptoms include headaches, throat aches, a runny nose and a dry cough. Sometimes, the flu can lead to complications that are much more serious, such as pneumonia. The flu virus is not as innocent as it may seem and can be quite dangerous, especially for people at high risk, such as the elderly and pregnant women.

2. “You can catch the flu only in winter”

Despite the fact that the flu is much more common in winter months, there is no link between its prevalence and the weather conditions. People can catch the flu when they touch surfaces that have the virus on it, even small objects, such as door handles. Another common way to catch the flu is by inhaling the tiny droplets from coughs and sneezes.

Although it is not recommended to walk outside into the winter air with your hair still wet, or with few clothes on, this in itself will not cause you to get sick with the flu. The real danger lies in poor hand hygiene and confined areas. Make sure all rooms are adequately ventilated, wash your hands regularly, and regularly clean potential breeding grounds such as door handles, keyboards and telephones, the whole year round!

3. “I don’t feel sick, so I’m not contagious”

People often carry the flu virus without showing symptoms, for instance when their immune system can handle the virus. However, these ‘carriers’ of the virus can still infect others. People who are infected with the flu are contagious from the day before until six days after the first symptoms appear. So, don’t think you’re out of the woods just yet, and keep practicing good hand hygiene.

4. “Stomach flu is a kind of flu”

People often use the word ‘flu’ for other illnesses. The stomach flu, for instance, isn’t really a ‘flu’. The typical symptoms of diarrhoea and vomiting associated with the stomach flu are caused by enteroviruses or noroviruses, which are completely unrelated to the influenza virus.

In children, however, the flu virus can cause diarrhoea and vomiting. But if these symptoms are not accompanied by fever or muscle aches, then they are most likely caused by something else. 

5. “Only antibiotics can cure the flu”

This statement couldn’t be further from the truth! Flu is a viral infection, so taking antibiotics – which are for bacterial infections – will do absolutely nothing. Only if you contract a bacterial infection on top of the flu, antibiotics may be required. But remember to always see your doctor first.   

6. “The flu vaccine causes the flu”

This is undoubtedly one of the most persistent misconceptions about the flu vaccine. While the vaccine does contain the virus, it is inactivated, which means it cannot transmit infection and make you ill. However, it does prepare your immune system for any ‘real’ attacks. Only in some cases do people experience flu-like symptoms after getting the flu shot.

7. “The flu vaccine will give me a 100% guarantee”

The flu vaccine is an excellent way to protect your employees, but there’s no such thing as an absolute 100% guarantee. The vaccine reduces the risk of getting the flu by 70 to 90%. Those who still get the flu after receiving the vaccination will recover more quickly and have a reduced risk of complications from the flu, such as bronchitis or pneumonia. Also good to know is that it takes up to two weeks for your body to build the antibodies to fight the flu. 

8. “A one-off flu shot will protect me forever”

The flu vaccine offers protection for up to six months, as that is when the antibodies that your body produces to protect you against the flu start to decline. In addition, flu viruses change almost every year. New flu vaccines are made up of a combination of viruses from previous flu seasons and a number of viruses that are predicted to be predominant during the upcoming season. It is therefore strongly recommended to get a flu shot each year.

9. “The flu vaccine is only for the elderly”

Although the flu vaccine is primarily aimed at people who are at high risk of serious complications, even ‘healthy people’ will benefit from the vaccine. The flu vaccine is also compulsory for certain professions, such as healthcare workers. By getting the vaccine, they help protect patients who have poor immune systems. Other employees benefit from the flu vaccine as well. It protects their own health and that of colleagues, and helps prevent worker absenteeism.

10. “I already had the flu this year, so I won’t need the flu vaccine”

This brings us back to the first myth: flu-like symptoms are caused by many different types of viruses, including the common cold. Chances are that it wasn’t the flu you were suffering from, so your body may not have produced the right antibodies. So, you should still get the flu shot!

Discover how to offer the best possible protection for your workers throughout the year by recommending the right vaccines.

Avoid flu-related absences: vaccinate your employees

You can order flu vaccines for your employees between 20 June and 14 October 2022Order your flu vaccines on time.