Flu is the top cause of vaccine-preventable deaths in the United States.

One of the most devastating myths I hear about the flu vaccine is that it can give you the flu. “I got the flu vaccine once, and I got the flu, so I’m never getting the shot again.” This is something patients say too often. And it’s simply not true.

You cannot get the flu from the flu vaccine. The vaccine is made from an inactivated virus that can’t transmit infection. So, why does this myth persist?

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What’s the flu hype about?

It’s human nature to want to associate a cause-and-effect relationship when something bad happens. Over thousands of years, it’s how we’ve learned to survive. If we eat something that makes us feel sick, our instincts tell us not to eat that food again. Certain smells, images and past experiences can turn our stomachs. It’s nature’s way of saying, “You’d better stay away from that.” But our instincts can be wrong.

The flu shot CAN sometimes cause a low grade fever or some aches. This is your body’s way of telling you that it’s making you immune to the real deal. It won’t last long. And feeling crummy for a few hours or a day is a lot better than having the flu for a week to 10 days.

Sadly, our incorrect reaction to the flu vaccine does much harm. You can pass the flu on to someone before you have symptoms, while you’re sick, and up to a week after you start feeling bad. So, not getting vaccinated means you can get the flu. And if you get the flu, you could be spreading it around before you even know it.

The flu vaccine is also given around the time of year when colds and other viruses are very common.  People who get ill after the vaccine were likely already exposed to another virus when they were vaccinated and were going to get ill anyway.

How can you prevent the flu?

The flu is very contagious. You can get it from people coughing or sneezing up to six feet away from you. You can pick up the virus from gas pump handles or ATM machine keys.

Washing your hands during flu season is very important. The flu is a virus. So don’t bother with antibacterial soap. Wash your hands with any soap and do it often. Make sure you lather up your hands well and don’t rush the job. And keeping your hands away from your face can keep you from moving the virus from your hands into your body.

Getting the flu vaccine is the best way to protect yourself. Everyone 6 months and older should get it every year (with some exceptions in special cases). It will help guard you against the 3 or 4 strains predicted to strike hard that flu season.

The flu is most dangerous for children, people ages 65 and older, and those with other health problems. About 90 percent of people who die from the flu are older adults.

Don’t buy into a myth that can harm you or those you love. Even if it’s into November, a flu shot can still help protect you. Flu season is usually the worst from December through February, but it can last into April or May.

For more information about the flu or the flu vaccine, please visit

About UPMC Harrisburg

UPMC Harrisburg is a nationally recognized leader in providing high-quality, patient-centered health care services in south central PA. and surrounding rural communities. UPMC Harrisburg includes seven acute care hospitals and over 160 outpatient clinics and ancillary facilities serving Dauphin, Cumberland, Perry, York, Lancaster, Lebanon, Juniata, Franklin, Adams, and parts of Snyder counties. These locations care for more than 1.2 million area residents yearly, providing life-saving emergency care, essential primary care, and leading-edge diagnostic services. Its cardiovascular program is nationally recognized for its innovation and quality. It also leads the region with its cancer, neurology, transplant, obstetrics-gynecology, maternity care, and orthopaedic programs.

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