Featured Infographics Student Health Wellness

A doctor’s take on the top 5 flu misconceptions

Young couple lie together in bed while they both have the flu

The cooler weather brings us together; we’re more often inside crowded malls and office towers.. and then flu season arrives.

To the healthy individual, the term “flu season” may sound abstract, perhaps irrelevant. But the flu, or influenza, kills about 3500 Canadians every year, and causes about 12,200 of us to be hospitalized due to the illness itself or related complications.

Below are five of the top flu misconceptions you may hear people talk about this season, and how you can stay informed:

1. “It’s really just a bad cold”

The flu is not “just a bad cold.” Generally, people who have come down with the flu will say they’ve been “hit” with the flu — and that’s no exaggeration. Knowing the difference can make all the difference for everyone.

2. “I don’t need the vaccine. I never get the flu. Even if I were to get it, I’d get through it.”

Chances are this individual, if healthy and hit with the virus, would likely recover with no complications. They would also likely spend time with family, relatives and friends  social circles that include the two most flu-vulnerable groupsvery old and very young, and in some families, pregnant women. Transmission from an infected individual can cause serious complications and result in hospitalization for these vulnerable groups.

3. “I’ve got too much work. I’ve got to come in. And besides… it’s just a bad cold.” (see #1)

Good work ethic is admirable and important, but the health of an individual and those around him/her is also important. Have a co-worker who’s got chills/high fever? Aches and pains? Persistent cough? Best to advise this individual to head home.

4. “I’ve heard of people getting the flu from the vaccine”

The flu vaccine contains killed strains of the virus. People often associate the vaccine with a slight chill, sore arm, and not feeling 100 per cent. That’s not because they are coming down with the flu; it’s because they are experiencing an immune response. And that’s a good thing.

The sore arm, however, is from the needle – and for those with a quiet fear of needles, there is an effective, needle-free nasal spray vaccine optionThis option contains live virus so is not recommended for older or very young individuals, or individuals with pre-existing medical conditions or weakened immunity.

No one can get the flu from the vaccine. But an individual can still get the flu even after getting the vaccine (see #5, second bullet). However, evidence shows that being armed with the vaccine results in a less severe hit, should you get the flu.

5. “The flu vaccine doesn’t work anyway”

Every year, the vaccine covers three strains of the flu virus. Last year’s vaccine protected against the H1N1 strain and the H3N2 strain. The vaccine also had an influenza B strain and provided protection against one of the two influenza B strains circulating in the community. The influenza strains in this year’s vaccine have been updated to reflect what has been circulating over the last year.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Don’t discount the flu vaccine, based on last year’s
  • The flu vaccine provides 60 per cent protection against the flu
  • Do think of it as a 60 per cent discount taken off the flu’s contagiousness – to you

Cold vs. flu infographic. Accessible text to follow

[toggle title=”Click here to read a text-only version”]

Cold Vs Flu

Influencza (flu) is not just a bad cold. Know the difference to help protect yourself and the ones you love.


Fever, chills & headache

Cold: Less common, often mild
Flu: Common, fever may be high

Aches, muscle pain, fatigue, weakness

Cold: Mild
Flu: Common, often severe; extreme exhaustion very common at the start

Stuffy nose, sneezing

Cold: Often
Flu: Sometimes

Sore throat

Cold: Sometimes
Flu: Often


Cold: Mild to moderate
Flu: Common, severe, persistent

Chest congestion

Cold: Less common, mild
Flu: Common

Reduce your risk of getting the flu AND protect others. Get the flu vaccine from your Family Doctor or at your local Public Health clinic.

Brought to you by Sunnybrook


Updated September 2016 to reflect information for the 2016/2017 flu season

About the author

Dr. Mary Vearncombe

Dr. Mary Vearncombe is the former Medical Director of Infection Prevention and Control, and a former Medical Microbiologist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.

Have a question about this post? Get in touch.