7 Mistakes People Make With the Flu

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Jennifer L.W. Fink, RN, BSN on October 9, 2020
  • Woman with fever, cold or flu drinking tea in bed
    Avoid these common flu mistakes.
    Influenza—a highly contagious respiratory illness many people call “the flu”—can make your life miserable. The high fever, body aches, extreme fatigue, and cough that are hallmarks of the flu can sideline even the healthiest person for days.

    Unfortunately, there’s no surefire way to avoid exposure to influenza during flu season. But, you can dramatically decrease your odds of infection and lingering illness by avoiding these seven common flu mistakes.
  • flu shots sign in pharmacy
    1. Waiting too long to get a flu vaccine.
    The flu vaccine (flu shot or mist) is your best protection against influenza. Doctors and public health officials recommend getting a flu shot each year in early October, because it takes a few weeks for the vaccine to generate a strong immune response in the body. If you get your flu shot in October, you’ll be protected when peak flu season hits—usually in December or January. If you wait until November or later to get your vaccine, the flu might arrive in your area before you’re vaccinated. You can check the CDC’s weekly flu maps to see the disease spread.
  • Caucasian wife comforting unconscious husband in hospital
    2. Skipping the flu shot.
    Flu vaccination is THE most effective strategy for avoiding influenza and its complications. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), flu vaccination dramatically decreases the risk of death from the flu; an unvaccinated person who catches the flu and lands in the hospital is 2 to 5 times more likely to die than a vaccinated person. The flu vaccine is recommended for everyone ages 6 months of age and older. Don’t like needles? The flu vaccine can be administered via a shot or nasal spray (flu “mist”). People who are 2 to 49 years old are eligible for the nasal spray. It is not for pregnant women or people who have a weakened immune system. Your doctor or pharmacist may take additional precautions depending on your health history.
  • white man working in pharmaceutical laboratory
    3. Doubting flu shot effectiveness.
    Yes, you can get the flu even if you’ve been vaccinated. That’s because a lot of different strains of influenza types A and B cause seasonal flu, and it’s impossible for healthcare researchers to predict exactly which strains will be most problematic in any given season. Researchers adjust the flu vaccine each year in attempt to match it to the viral strains present and spreading in the community. This provides the most protection year over year, but 100% effectiveness is not possible. That doesn’t mean a flu shot is a waste of time. Flu vaccination typically reduces the risk of getting the flu by 40 to 60%, and those who get the flu despite receiving the vaccine don’t get as sick as people who skip vaccination. 
  • Woman Working With a Sore Neck
    4. Ignoring flu symptoms.
    Don’t ignore a fever, cough, fatigue, and body aches, especially in flu season. If you experience flu symptoms, head home and rest. Extra sleep will help your immune system fight the flu. If you have asthma, heart disease, diabetes, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), or problems with your kidney or liver, call your healthcare provider as soon as you notice flu symptoms. Taking an antiviral medication can decrease your risk of developing serious flu-related complications. The medication is only available by prescription and is most effective when taken within 48 hours of developing flu symptoms.
  • woman-walking-in-snowy-weather
    5. Going out and about.
    For most people, hibernating all winter is not an option. If you’re serious about avoiding the flu, though, you may want to limit your outings during flu season. Influenza is contagious and can spread through the air, so avoiding crowds is one way to decrease your exposure to flu (and your chances of getting sick). People who come down with the flu should stay home from school, work and community activities. The CDC encourages people to remain at home (except for trips to the doctor) until their fever has been gone for a full 24 hours.
  • doctor handing prescription and pills to patient
    6. Asking for an antibiotic.
    When you’re sick, you simply want to feel better and get back to business. But an antibiotic won’t help the flu. The flu is caused by a virus, and antibiotics kill bacteria, not viruses. If you get to a healthcare provider within 48 hours of developing influenza symptoms, you may get a prescription antiviral medicine to help your body fight the infection. Beyond that, drinking plenty of fluids and getting lots of rest is the best way to combat the flu.
  • Asian woman in bed with the flu
    7. Taking too much medicine.
    Many over-the-counter flu-and-cold medicines are a combination of two or more drugs. These combination meds may include a pain reliever, fever reducer, cough suppressant, and decongestant. Problems can arise when people take combination products with single-use medication. If you take Tylenol to control your fever and also use a combination medicine that contains acetaminophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol), you could harm your liver. A doctor or pharmacist can help you figure out which medications are safe for you to take.
7 Mistakes People Make With the Flu

About The Author

Jennifer L.W. Fink, RN, BSN is a Registered Nurse-turned-writer. She’s also the creator of BuildingBoys.net and co-creator/co-host of the podcast On Boys: Real Talk about Parenting, Teaching & Reaching Tomorrow’s Men. Most recently, she is the author ofThe First-Time Mom's Guide to Raising Boys: Practical Advice for Your Son's Formative Years.
  1. Flu. MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/flu.html
  2. Influenza (flu). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/flu/symptoms-causes/syc-20351719?p=1
  3. Preventive Steps. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/consumer/prevention.htm
  4. Colds and the Flu. American Academy of Family Physicians. https://familydoctor.org/condition/colds-and-the-flu/?adfree=true
  5. Vaccine Effectiveness – How Well Does the Flu Vaccine Work? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/vaccineeffect.htm
  6. People at High-Risk of Developing Severe Flu-Related Complications. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/disease/high_risk.htm

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Oct 9
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.