2.18.20 - The ScriptDrop Team Flu Season: Separating Fact from Fiction

The novel coronavirus, now named COVID-19, has dominated the international headlines for several weeks. However, like previous pandemics – SARS, H1N1, avian flu – it’s unlikely most Americans will be exposed to it, and, as the CDC says, “risk is dependent on exposure.”[1] It’s a given that almost every American will be exposed to the influenza A and B viruses, though.

As of February 14, there were 15 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States.[2] In contrast, there have been 92 influenza-associated pediatric deaths alone during the current flu season.[3] There have also been 12,167 lab-confirmed influenza-associated hospitalizations between October 1, 2019 and February 8, 2020.[4] That’s only hospitalizations, not total number of people infected. That statistic is much higher.

Unfortunately, many Americans tend to brush off flu concerns, often due to misinformation. To combat that, the ScriptDrop team did some research to bring you facts about influenza and how your local pharmacy can help protect you and your family.

It’s February, so it’s too late to get a flu shot. 

It’s not too late! While experts do recommend that everyone gets the shot in the fall, the shot lasts a year and can still offer protection if you get it during January and February, which tend to be the peak of the flu season.[5] Good news: your local pharmacy can likely administer a flu shot and the shot is super affordable. Keep reading to learn more!

I heard the vaccine doesn’t even work.  

Every year, health organizations such as the CDC and WHO forecast which flu strains are likely to arise, and the flu shot is updated to match those strains. Even when the vaccine is not a perfect match for whichever strain takes precedence during flu season, studies have shown that vaccination reduces the risk of flu between 40 and 60 percent, and if you get sick anyway, it can reduce the severity of the illness.[6] Even a slight reduction in severity counts: every year, influenza costs the United States an estimated $11.2 billion between healthcare costs and lost productivity.[7]

I don’t want to make an appointment with my primary care doctor just for a flu shot.

Guess what? You don’t have to! As of 2009, all 50 states have given pharmacists the authority to administer flu vaccines. Since then, pharmacies have helped increase vaccination rates.[8] From 2003 to 2013, the overall percentage of Americans who received a flu shot rose from 32.2% to 40.3%.[9] This may not sound like a big improvement, but it demonstrates that offering immunizations in a nontraditional setting improves access to preventative care. In fact, you can find a local pharmacy that provides the flu shot through the CDC’s Flu Vaccine Finder.

I’m vomiting, so I must have the flu. 

That isn’t likely if you’re an adult. Seasonal influenza is a respiratory illness, not a gastrointestinal one. What we often call “the stomach flu” isn’t influenza but gastroenteritis, which is usually caused by noroviruses.[10] True flu symptoms come on suddenly and include a stuffy nose, sore throat, dry cough, body aches, headaches, fatigue, and malaise.[11] Some patients will have a fever. Children may also have vomiting and diarrhea, but those symptoms are uncommon in adults. In either case, rest and fluids are key to recovery. 

Antibiotics will help me get over the flu. 

Sorry, they won’t. Antibiotics are made to fight bacteria. Influenza is caused by a virus. Thus antibiotics will do absolutely nothing. Instead, most patients simply have to wait it out. They should stay home, avoid contact with other people, and drink plenty of water. Patients with severe symptoms or who are in a high-risk group may be prescribed an antiviral to fight the virus, as well. (Speaking of which, pharmacies that provide delivery can get antivirals to vulnerable patients while reducing the spread of the virus. That’s great for the patient and the community!)


We’re still in the thick of flu season, so don’t let your guard down: cover your sneezes, wash your hands regularly, avoid touching your face, and if you still haven’t gotten a flu shot, call your nearest pharmacy to see if they’re administering it. Even if you’re not concerned for your own health, getting the vaccine can help protect children, the elderly, and anyone who is immune-compromised or pregnant. If you’re still not convinced, talk to your pharmacist! 

[1] “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Situation Summary.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC, Feb 16 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/summary.html

[2] “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in the U.S.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC, Feb 14 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-in-us.html

[3]  “Weekly U.S. Influenza Surveillance Report.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC, Feb 14 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/weekly/index.htm

[4] Ibid.

[5] Berry, Jennifer. “Is the flu shot safe?” MedicalNewsToday. MNT, Aug 24 2016. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/312469 

[6] “Vaccine Effectiveness: How Well Do the Flu Vaccines Work?” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC, Jan 3 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/vaccines-work/vaccineeffect.htm

[7] Putri, Wayan & Muscatello, David & Stockwell, Melissa & Newall, Anthony. (2018). Economic burden of seasonal influenza in the United States. Vaccine. 36. 10.1016/j.vaccine.2018.05.057. 

[8] Gai, Yunwei et al. Relationship between pharmacist density and adult influenza vaccination after controlling for individual and neighborhood effects. Journal of the American Pharmacists Association, Volume 57, Issue 4, 474 – 482.e12

[9]  Drozd, Edward M et al. Impact of Pharmacist Immunization Authority on Seasonal Influenza Immunization Rates Across States. Clinical Therapeutics, Volume 39, Issue 8, 1563-1580.e17

[10] “Viral gastroenteritis (stomach flu).” Mayo Clinic Patient Care & Health Info. Mayo Clinic, Oct 16 2018. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/viral-gastroenteritis/symptoms-causes/syc-20378847

[11] Barrell, Amanda. “What is influenza B and what does it do?” MedicalNewsToday. MNT, Oct 15, 2019.  https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/326679.php