Flu season is just getting started, but misinformation about influenza and the coronavirus is already swirling. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it’s likely that the viruses that cause the flu and the viruses that cause COVID-19 will both be circulating this fall and winter.
But viruses aren’t the only ill running rampant – misinformation exacerbates the situation. Online misinformation may be new, but the way it spreads is much like the way disease spreads across people. And false information about COVID-19, the flu and the vaccines can be dangerous.
Here are some big misconceptions people have about the illnesses, which everyone needs to unlearn as we head into flu season and another high wave of COVID-19:
Myth: The flu won’t be a problem because we’re wearing masks.
Doctors are hoping for a lighter influenza season this year as people practice physical distancing, mask wearing and better hand hygiene. Which is why layering preventive measures is so important. People can get the flu by touching surfaces or objects that have been contaminated with flu viruses (which is also true with COVID-19).
Myth: The flu vaccine could make you sick, weak or more vulnerable to COVID-19.
The claim that the flu vaccine can give you the flu is not true. However, you could develop a flulike reaction to the vaccine (including muscle aches and fever) as your body produces antibodies.
But the vaccine itself will not give you an illness. That’s a key misconception to clear up now for anyone who is reluctant to get vaccinated over concerns the shot will make them sick and weaken their immune system amid a pandemic, making them more vulnerable to COVID-19. It won’t.
Myth: The flu vaccine could “mess” with a COVID-19 vaccine.
If a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available during flu season, after you have already received your flu shot, there should be no problem getting a subsequent vaccine any time this winter.
Myth: COVID-19 and the flu are essentially the same.
Despite President Donald Trump’s continued assertions that the flu and COVID-19 are so similar they are basically the same, that absolutely isn’t true.
It’s not true in terms of the effect on the body, it’s not true in terms of how long people are contagious or how contagious the various viruses are, and it’s not even true in terms of who tends to get really sick. And it’s certainly not true for death counts.
Approximately 34,000 people died in the U.S. during the 2018-2019 flu season. By contrast, more than 211,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the U.S. in the last seven months. And unlike the flu, which tends to strike in the winter, COVID-19 cases surged all summer long.
COVID-19 is caused by the novel coronavirus, called severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 or SARS- CoV-2, whereas flu is caused by any of the several different types and strains of influenza viruses. While both flu and COVID-19 are spread from person to person through droplets in the air from an infected person coughing, sneezing or talking, there are a few significant differences that make COVID-19 more likely to spread and cause more severe illness compared to the seasonal flu.
Moreover, there’s a vaccine available for seasonal flu, and although it doesn’t offer 100 percent protection, it does provide some protection by slowing the spread of influenza viruses that are circulating and can lessen the severity of illness. The flu vaccine does not provide protection against SARS- CoV 2. For COVID-19, there is no vaccine at this time.