Skip to main content

reviewed 8/23/2018

Flu: Myth or fact?

Flu season typically lasts from October to May, and the virus infects millions of Americans. But you can take steps to protect yourself, including getting the facts about this health threat.

Myth or fact: You can get the flu (influenza) by talking to someone who is infected.

Fact. The flu is transmitted through contaminated droplets that are coughed, sneezed or otherwise sent into the air by someone who's infected. These germs can land in your mouth or in your nose. They also can land on the surface, like a table, where you might place your hand. You can then infect yourself by touching your hand to your mouth, eyes or nose.

Myth or fact: You can infect someone with the flu when you don't feel sick.

Fact. You can be infected—and infect others—with the flu for 24 hours before your own symptoms start. And you'll remain contagious for as long as a week after symptoms appear. Some people, such as young children, can be contagious for even longer periods of time.

Myth or fact: The stomach flu is similar to the seasonal flu, just with different symptoms.

Myth. Seasonal flu is a respiratory virus. Although it can cause vomiting and diarrhea, its main symptoms are fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose and body aches. What many people call "stomach flu" is usually something else, such as food poisoning.

Myth or fact: Flu viruses are always mutating, which is one reason you need a new flu vaccine year.

Fact. Flu viruses can change over time to create different strains. Or they can change suddenly—for example, changing from a bird virus that infects ducks to one that infects humans.

Myth or fact: Your best protection against the flu is staying away from people during flu season.

Myth. While you should try to stay away from sick people—and wash your hands often—your best protection is the flu vaccine. Almost everyone 6 months and older should get the vaccine every year as soon as it's available. This also helps protect infants and others who can't be vaccinated themselves.

Myth or fact: You can get the flu from the flu vaccine.

Myth. You can't get the flu from the flu shot or the nasal spray. The shot contains killed viruses that can't make you sick with the illness. The nasal spray contains very weak viruses that can't infect the lungs.

Not sure if you have the flu or a bad cold? It's not always easy to tell, but assessing your symptoms can help.

Take the assessment

More flu tips and tools

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Related stories