It’s that time of year again, when the flu vaccine seems to get bumped to the top of every health care professional’s—and every concerned loved one’s—list of things you should worry about. Still not convinced you need a flu shot? Each year, more than 200,000 Americans are hospitalized, and 36,000 people die because of complications related to influenza. Many of these fatalities could be avoided with a vaccine. Read on to learn what steps you can take to protect yourself and your family.

Myth: Only older adults and babies need to be vaccinated.
Reality: Though it’s generally recommended for adults above the age of 50 and children aged 6 months to 5 years, many healthy adults who come in close contact with older people and children get the vaccine to protect themselves and their at-risk family members from contracting the highly contagious virus. “We find that many people are not as concerned [about themselves] as they are about their loved ones,” says Curtis Allen, a spokesperson for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Myth: It’s too early/late to get a flu shot.
Reality: The best time get a flu shot is in October or November so that you’re prepared for the upcoming flu season. But if you miss it during those months, don’t wait until next year—getting vaccinated anytime before February can still protect you.

Myth: I got a flu shot last year, so I don’t need another one.
Reality: An annual flu shot is the best protection that a person can have against influenza. According to researchers at Northwestern University, some seniors mistakenly believe that the flu vaccine provides lifelong immunity to the disease.

Myth: The flu is just a serious version of a cold; I’ll get over it.
Reality: “There’s a big difference between the flu and a really bad cold,” says Allen. Though they share many of the same symptoms—such as fevers, headaches, sore throat and cough—the flu is usually much more severe and can be debilitating for elderly people and those with weakened immune systems.

Myth: The flu shot will give me the flu.
Reality: The flu shot is an “inactivated vaccine,” which means that while it primes your immune system to beat back the virus, it can’t give you the flu. The nasal-spray flu vaccine, though made with a live, weakened flu virus, is “very unlikely” to give you the flu, says Allen. (The nasal spray isn’t recommended for everyone; talk to your doctor for more information). However, many people who get a common cold or other respiratory disease after receiving the vaccine mistakenly think the shot has caused them to contract influenza.

For more information on flu myths read “Top Flu Myths” (Real Health, Spring 2006).

Note: The flu vaccine is not recommended for people with certain allergies, those with a rare condition called Guillain-Barre syndrome and children under 6 months of age. To find out where to get the flu shot, call your doctor, or visit the American Lung Association’s flu clinic locator at