Identifying what’s true and what’s not about the prevention and treatment of the flu

So what should you do if you have the flu?

Take vitamin C? Gargle salt water? Eat garlic? When it comes to treating the flu, everyone has their favourite home remedies. But do they actually work?

Here we describe what’s fact and what’s fiction when it comes to axe the flu. And what’s more, if you click on a panel below, you can learn more about that particular topic.

Flu antivirals vs. over-the-counter flu remedies or antibiotics

You need a prescription for antiviral flu medication

Fact

You need a prescription for antiviral flu medication

Antiviral flu medications are only available with a prescription.1 They are most effective when taken within 48 hours of developing flu symptoms,2 so speak to your doctor when you think you have the first signs of flu.

Antibiotics are a good treatment for the flu

Fiction

Antibiotics are a good treatment for the flu

Antibiotics will not work to treat the flu, as these treat bacterial infections and not those caused by viruses such as influenza.1,3 They might help treat some of the bacterial complications that the flu can cause, but will not have an effect on the flu virus itself.3

Over-the-counter flu medicines can cure the flu

Fiction

Over-the-counter flu medicines can cure the flu

You might consider taking one of the many over-the-counter flu medications to treat your flu. But often these only provide short-term relief from the symptoms of the flu.4 Antivirals directly target the flu virus that is the causing the flu symptoms.5

The flu vaccine

The flu vaccine can give you the flu

Fiction

The flu vaccine can give you the flu

You cannot catch the flu from an influenza vaccine - this is because:6,7

  • Most vaccines do not contain live flu viruses – the viruses are inactive, and the vaccine helps your body’s immune system recognise the flu so that it can fight it more effectively if you become infected
  • Some vaccines (called ‘live attenuated influenza vaccine’) do contain a live flu virus, but the virus has been engineered so that it cannot infect your cells and replicate as it normally would. Instead, your body’s immune system learns to recognise the flu so that it can fight it more effectively if you are exposed to the same type of flu virus again in the future
    • You will probably have already received a live attenuated vaccine in your lifetime, as this type of vaccine is used to protect against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR); and varicella (chicken pox)

Your doctor will always recommend the most appropriate flu vaccine for you and be able to answer any questions or concerns you may have. 

You don’t need a flu vaccine every year

Fiction

You don’t need a flu vaccine every year

The flu virus is constantly changing, and so new vaccines are developed each year to tackle particular types of the flu. In addition, your immune system can ‘forget’ what a flu infection looks like and so needs reminding.6 This is why the CDC recommends getting the flu vaccine every year.6

A flu vaccine protects you from all types of the flu

Fiction

A flu vaccine protects you from all types of the flu

Even if you’ve been given the flu vaccine, you could still catch the flu. This is because the virus evolves quickly, so in one flu season there may be several different types (or ‘strains’) of the flu. As a result, flu strains can emerge that vaccines have not been designed to defend against.8 This makes some people question flu vaccine effectiveness, but studies have shown that the flu vaccine is still one of the most effective ways to protect yourself from the flu overall, and provides a number of benefits.8,9

Flu symptom relief

The flu is just a bad cold – the symptoms are the same

Fiction

The flu is just a bad cold – the symptoms are the same

Although colds and the flu are both infectious diseases and share some of the same symptoms, they are very different illnesses:10

  • You may feel unwell with a cold but be able to carry on with everyday life, however the flu can cause fatigue and weakness that might mean you’ll need to spend a few days in bed
  • A cold usually develops gradually whereas the flu can appear much more suddenly
  • The flu can result in the development of very serious complications, whereas colds generally do not

Find out more

Chicken soup can cure the flu   

Fiction

Chicken soup can cure the flu

Sorry chicken soup fans. There is no evidence to suggest that chicken soup, or any food in fact, can cure the flu. However, soup recipes often contain ingredients that can keep your body nourished while fighting an infection, and the liquid in soups and broths could help you stay hydrated.

Antivirals can help ease symptoms of the flu 

Fact

Antivirals can help ease symptoms of the flu

Antivirals actively fight the flu virus itself, preventing it from reproducing.1,5 When taken within 48 hours of first noticing flu symptoms,2 antivirals can lessen the effects of the flu, help you get better sooner, and reduce the risk of flu complications compared to no treatment.11,12

If you’re looking for advice on how to axe the flu, speak to your doctor and ask about antivirals.

AXE THE FLU, DON’T LET IT AXE YOU
ASK YOUR DOCTOR IF AN ANTIVIRAL IS RIGHT FOR YOU

It’s important to speak to your doctor or healthcare provider as soon as possible.

References

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). What You Should Know About Influenza (Flu) Antiviral Drugs: Fact Sheet, 2018. Available from: www.cdc.gov/flu/pdf/freeresources/updated/antiviral-factsheet-updated.pdf. Last accessed: August 2020.
  2. Lehnert R et al. Dtsch Arztebl Int 2016; 113(47): 799–807.
  3. Low D. Clin Microbiol Infect 2008; 14(4): 298–306.
  4. Klepser ME. Drugs 2014; 74(13): 1467–1479.
  5. Stiver G. CMAJ 2003; 168(1): 49–56.
  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Key Facts About Seasonal Flu Vaccine, 2018. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/keyfacts.htm. Last accessed: August 2020.
  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Understanding How Vaccines Work, 2018. Available from: www.cdc.gov/vaccines/hcp/conversations/downloads/vacsafe-understand-color-office.pdf. Last accessed: August 2020.
  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Misconceptions about Seasonal Flu and Flu Vaccines, 2018. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/misconceptions.htm. Last accessed: August 2020.
  9. Treanor JJ et al. Clin Infect Dis. 2012; 55(7): 951–959.

  10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Flu symptoms and complications. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/symptoms/symptoms.htm. Last accessed: August 2020. 
  11. Tsang TK et al. Trends Microbiol 2016; 24(2): 123–133.
  12. Allen UD et al. Can J Infect Dis Med Microbiol 2006: 17(5): 273–284.