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 favorite home remedies. But do they actually work?

Here we describe what's fact and what's fiction when it comes to beating the flu.

Click on the panels below to learn more.

About the flu

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:1

  • 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

 

The flu isn’t
a serious illness

Fiction

The flu isn’t a serious illness

While most people who catch the flu make a full recovery, for some there can be complications, resulting in much more serious illness or even death. In Singapore, influenza results in up to 1500 hospitalisations each year, and as many as 600 influenza-associated deaths.2,3

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.4,5 When taken within 48 hours of first noticing flu symptoms,6 antivirals can lessen the effects of the flu, help you get better sooner, and reduce the risk of flu complications compared to no treatment.7,8 

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

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.4 They are most effective when taken within 48 hours of developing flu symptoms,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.4,9 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.9

Over-the-counter flu medicines can cure the flu

Fiction

Over-the-counter flu medicines can cure the flu

Over-the-counter flu medications only provide short-term relief from the symptoms of the flu and do not have any effect on the flu virus itself.10 Only antivirals can directly target the flu virus.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 a flu vaccine. This is because most vaccines do not contain live viruses. 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 as it normally would.11,12

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

Fact

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 flu viruses. In addition, your immune system can ‘forget’ what a flu infection looks like and so needs reminding. This is why the CDC recommends getting the flu vaccine every year.11

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.13

Don't let the flu beat 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.

Find out more about the flu in your local area using the MOH Weekly Infectious Diseases Bulletin

References

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Flu symptoms and complications. Available from: www.cdc.gov/flu/symptoms/symptoms.htm. Last accessed: February 2020.
  2. Ang LW et al. Emerg Infect Dis 2014; 20: 1652–1660.
  3. Chow A et al. Emerg Infect Dis 2006; 12: 114–121.
  4. 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: February 2020.
  5. Stiver G. CMAJ 2003; 168(1): 49–56.
  6. Lehnert R et al. Dtsch Arztebl Int 2016; 113(47): 799–807.
  7. Tsang TK et al. Trends Microbiol 2016; 24(2): 123–133.
  8. Allen UD et al. Can J Infect Dis Med Microbiol 2006: 17(5): 273–284.
  9. Low D. Clin Microbiol Infect 2008; 14(4): 298–306.
  10. Klepser ME. Drugs 2014; 74(13): 1467–1479.
  11. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Key Facts About Seasonal Flu Vaccine, 2018. Available from: www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/keyfacts.htm. Last accessed: February 2020.
  12. 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: February 2020.
  13. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Misconceptions about Seasonal Flu and Flu Vaccines, 2018. Available from: www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/misconceptions.htm. Last accessed: February 2020.