COVID-19 Update

The Facts About Flu: 11 Common Flu Questions, Answered

There’s a lot of information out there about the flu, especially now with COVID-19 in the mix. Be sure you know the difference between the facts and myths.

Mom caring for sick kid at home

Don’t Fall Victim to These Common Flu Misconceptions

What exactly is the flu? Why are you supposed to get a shot every year? How dangerous is it, really?

There are a lot of misunderstandings about this common, contagious—and dangerous—illness. Andi Shane, MD, MPH, System Medical Director of Infectious Diseases at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, is here to respond to common flu and flu shot questions so that you’re empowered to make decisions to keep your kids and family healthy during the 2020-21 flu and COVID-19 season.

1. Isn’t the flu just a bad cold?

No, it’s more than that. Influenza (flu) is a serious virus that results in hospital stays for more than half a million people every year. It can be especially severe for babies and children with chronic medical conditions. Flu infections can also lead to more serious infections, like pneumonia, as well as other complications and even death.

2. Does everyone need a flu vaccine?

Yes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) agree that all children 6 months and older need a flu vaccine. Get your kid a flu shot as soon as it becomes available, which is usually by the end of September. Getting an annual flu shot is always important—and during this COVID-19 pandemic, it’s more critical than ever. Be sure to encourage every member of your family to get vaccinated to help prevent the spread of the flu this year.

3. Do you need to get a flu shot every year?

Yes. There are many different strains of the influenza virus. Every year, experts work to predict the strains that will be in the community that year. Because these flu virus strains change year to year, it is important to get the best protection each year with an updated flu vaccine.

4. Does the flu vaccine give you the flu or make you sick?

No. A flu shot does not cause the flu or any other infection. It can take up to two weeks for a flu vaccine to take effect in the body. Sometimes, when people get a flu shot later in the season or come into contact with a flu virus before they are fully immunized, they may develop flu-like symptoms. But it wasn’t a flu shot that made them ill. We recommend getting a flu vaccine as soon as it is available to lessen the chance of this happening.

5. How is the flu different from COVID-19?

While many flu and COVID-19 symptoms do overlap, the biggest differentiator is a new loss of taste or smell that is more commonly found in COVID-19.

If you’re concerned your child may have COVID-19, our team has created a Pediatric Assessment Tool to provide tips on what to do if your child has a cough and/or fever or has no symptoms but has been around someone with COVID-19.

6. Does the flu shot protect you from COVID-19?

A flu shot does not protect you from COVID-19. However, since some flu symptoms are similar to symptoms of COVID-19, preventing flu infection by getting a flu shot could reduce confusion or concerns about possible COVID-19 infection in your family.

7. Does the flu shot cause allergic reactions?

Very rarely. An allergic reaction to the flu vaccine is incredibly rare. In the past, having an egg allergy used to be a reason not to get a flu shot, but this is no longer true. Children with almost all egg allergies can receive a flu vaccine without concern. Check with your child’s pediatrician or allergist if you have questions about your child’s allergy.

8. Can pregnant and nursing mothers get a flu shot?

Yes. Doctors recommend that all pregnant women get a flu shot. When babies are born to mothers who received a flu vaccine, they are less likely to get a flu infection. This is incredibly important since infants are a vulnerable population and can’t be vaccinated until they’re 6 months old.

In addition to getting a flu vaccine while pregnant, it’s important to have all caregivers, friends and family members who will come into contact with you and your infant vaccinated as well. This practice, called cocooning, is a way to help protect a vulnerable new baby from infectious diseases before she is old enough to be vaccinated.

Breastfeeding provides healthy protecting substances to children. Flu-immunized women can help protect both themselves and their infants by getting a flu shot.

9. Once flu season has started, is it ever too late to get a flu shot?

No. The CDC recommends that everyone receive a flu vaccine by the end of October. However, if you forgot to get your child vaccinated, it’s never too late to do so. A flu shot still has many protective benefits, like preventing infection and lessening symptoms, even if it’s given later in the season.

10. Is the flu shot better for kids than FluMist?

No matter what method you choose, be sure to get your child protected through a flu vaccine. The nasal spray flu immunization is an option for some children and adults.

11. Can you spread the flu if you don’t have a fever?

The flu is a contagious virus. When children are infected with the flu, they may infect others days before their first symptoms are present. During flu season, everyone is at risk of unknowingly spreading the infection. That’s why getting a flu vaccine is so important: You don’t know if people you’re regularly in contact with have been vaccinated.

Now that you’re up to date on flu facts, learn more about flu vaccines and how they keep kids healthy.

Rest assured we’re here for you if you need us.

At Children’s, safety is our top priority. We are working hard to protect our patients, families and staff. Whether you have an appointment or need to visit us for emergency care, we’ve put extra precautions in place to keep your family safe.

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This content is general information and is not specific medical advice. Always consult with a doctor or healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns about the health of a child. In case of an urgent concern or emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department right away. Some physicians and affiliated healthcare professionals on the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta team are independent providers and are not our employees.