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It’s that time again. The signs are up in pharmacies to get your flu shot. TV anchors are telling their viewers that last year’s influenza season was bad, really bad! Is there any way you can avoid the flu this winter?

The CDC reports that 80,000 people died last year. That’s more than in any flu season in recent memory. Millions were miserable. Hospitals were overwhelmed and had to set up tents in parking lots to handle the crush. At least 900,000 people were hospitalized because of the flu, way more than in a typical year.

Will a Flu Shot Help You Avoid the Flu?

With such scary statistics, it is hardly any wonder that public health authorities are encouraging people to get their flu shot now. That’s pretty much the same message we get every year about this time. But if the flu shot is so great, how come it didn’t do a better job protecting people last flu season?

The overall effectiveness of the flu vaccine last year was 40 percent, though for older people effectiveness was just half that. Such statistics are not unusual. Over the last dozen years, the overall effectiveness of flu vaccines averages out to 41 percent.

Even more alarming, however, was the vaccine performance against H3N2. This virulent strain of influenza was responsible for much of the illness and many of the deaths last season. The shot was only 24 percent effective against this nasty infection. Older people only got 17 percent protection. In Great Britain, scientists found that immunization against H3N2 strains was only 5 percent effective for people over 65 (Euro Surveillance, Sep. 2018).

Still, any protection may be better than none. The CDC points out that 80 percent of the children who died of flu last year had not been vaccinated. The agency is urging everyone over the age of six months to get immunized before November. No matter how effective the vaccine, it can’t help anyone who doesn’t receive it.

What Will This Year’s Flu Season Be Like?

No one knows whether this year’s flu season will be brutal, like last year, or relatively light. We can hope for less intensity, since that is what the Southern hemisphere has experienced. Our pattern of influenza infection is often similar to the pattern of the flu season just finishing up in Australia and South America. We really won’t know how bad the flu season is or how well the vaccine works except in retrospect. However, the CDC and the FDA are predicting that the vaccine this year should be a better match and provide better protection than last year.

How Can You Avoid the Flu?

What else can you do to avoid the flu? Experts emphasize the importance of hand washing. A Chinese study showed that people who were most conscientious about washing their hands with soap were least likely to get the flu (Medicine, March 2016).

Another approach that would help would be to have people with symptoms such as fever, sore throat, runny nose and cough stay home from school or work. It’s very easy for people to spread flu viruses around the office just by touching computers, desks, chairs and door knobs or wall switches (International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, Aug. 9, 2018). This study found that wearing masks is much more effective than hand-washing in preventing the spread of influenza. So is frequent disinfection of high-touch surfaces. Unfortunately, most workplaces don’t incorporate these precautions easily. Combining face mask use and intense hand washing can reduce the spread of influenza, though (BMC Infectious Diseases, Jan. 26, 2012). When flu threatens, a smart person will adopt these measures.

Will Green Tea Help You Avoid the Flu?

One other simple approach that may help: drinking or gargling with green tea. Studies suggest that catechin compounds in green tea can keep flu viruses from latching on to cells and may improve the immune response (Molecules, July 2018). On the other hand, Japanese investigators found that high school students who gargled with green tea were just as likely to catch influenza as those who gargled with water (PLoS One, May 16, 2014). However, the high school students were not very consistent about gargling with either liquid. In summary, to avoid the flu you may wish to get vaccinated, wear a face mask and wash your hands conscientiously during flu season and possibly gargle with green tea.

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  1. Bev

    Last year when the flu was so bad we took elderberry syrup or capsules depending if we were traveling. Capsules are easier. Olive leaf capsules and oil of oregano (Solaray Brand) gel caps. As soon as I start to feel a sore throat or stuffy head I take 2 oil of oregano WITH FOOD immediately then again before bed about 12hours apart for 2-3days. Within a couple hours lol symptoms are gone but will take for a few days to make sure the bug is gone. We use hand wipes A LOT when we’re out doing errands etc. in public places. Everyone at my husbands work got sick (20+ ppl) but he didn’t. This year I’ll be making my own elderberry syrup since it’s so expensive (Gaia brand is the best tasting & quality) but plenty of recipes online. Amazon has the best price but the closer it gets into winter the more the price goes up. Flu shots, well the manuf. can’t ever get it right and maybe10% effective. But given our age we got it last year to cover all the bases just in case. Whatever you decide, do your research. I did…

  2. Cari

    I wish people would not go to church when they are sick. I wish they would stop the tradition of hand shaking everywhere. The original intention was to check for weapons. At least, that’s what I read. I wish that people would cover their mouths when coughing and/or sneezing.

    I see people coughing by making a fist and covering their mouth with that which does nothing to protect others. I wish people would not take their babies and children to the mall and to restaurants while they are sick and hacking away. Years ago, if you were sick, you would stay home. That’s just my two cents worth.

  3. Emily

    I’m curious about the way that the statistics are compiled in terms of flu deaths and hospitalizations. Are patients tested for the flu when they are in the hospital or after they die? I somehow doubt it, as busy as they are providing care. I am guessing that any flu-like illness stats get lumped in together. So the numbers may be inflated and misleading.

    In addition, the flu vaccine doesn’t provide protection for other, flu-like illnesses whose symptoms mimic influenza. There is some evidence, although far more studies would need to be done to settle the issue and I don’t think the pharmaceutical will is there, that the flu vaccine can actually lower resistance to other, flu-like illnesses (immunity is very complex, far more complex than mainstream vaccine literature portrays). And as we saw last year, the vaccine didn’t even do a good job of addressing the actual flu strain that was going around.

    The CDC reports that 80 percent of the children who died from the flu were not vaccinated; however, did they test to make sure that they actually died from the flu and not another viral vector? And did they follow children who didn’t get vaccinated to see how many recovered or didn’t even get the flu?

  4. Gail

    We have used influzinum for several years and have been able to avoid catching the flu. We take occilococcinum if we are exposed.

  5. reeb zee
    Wilnston salem

    I use an ink pen tip to press elevator buttons and PIN pads at the store and paper towels to operate bathroom sinks and to open bathroom doors. People do not wash their hands because their momma dent teach them about germz. I stay outta movie theaters in flu season, too.

  6. Eileen
    Naples, FL

    I am 69. I had a flu shot many years ago and became very sick, I will never get a flu shot again. I eat healthy foods, low sugar and exercise. Take Vitamin D3. Wash my hands frequently, as soon as I get home from shopping.

    The additives in flu shots are horrible. Why would you want this in your body? Take care of your body and it will take care of you. Watch out for signs.

  7. Elizabeth
    Southern CA

    I quit getting the flu vaccine many years ago!
    I kept getting very sick immediately after getting one
    An ex doctor told me I was imagining it and insisted I keep getting them knowing how sick they made me
    I changed doctors and my new doctor told me he had other patients with the same problem
    He figured we were allergic to some ingredient in the vaccine
    I stopped getting sick from the vaccine and normally do not get the flu either!
    The exeption was last year after plane travel
    I got very sick with a bad flu and went to urgent care
    They tested me and said I was positive for the bad flu going around last year they also told me it was not covered by last years flu vaccine
    They prescribed me a course of Tamiflu which was hard to obtain but worked like a miracle!
    I will NEVER abet anogher flu vaccine!!!
    I think all the media hype telling people to get them every year is more about the profits for the drug companies that manufacture the flu vaccines!
    What consumer runs out to buy anything that works only an average of 41%?

  8. Deni

    In years past, I have gotten the flu shot, I had various viruses, including the flu ALL winter.
    Since I have quit getting the flu shot, I never get sick, I am a believer in hand washing and supplementing with immune boosters including vitamin D-3 as well as eating well. Seems to work for me.

  9. mary

    I believe Green Med Info gave the real numbers for the US–much lower about deaths.
    And those other numbers included people with pre existing serious illnesses.
    It is all about the immune system including hand washing, sleep, low stress. Positive thinking. With those percentages why even take a chance?
    If you choose the shot be certain you are well, Friend asked doc if ok to get when she had a fever—told ‘certainly’. Terribly ill for an entire year , not totally recovered the 2nd year.

  10. Carey

    I have a friend with a compromised immune system. I cannot justify not getting the flu shot. It may or may not help me, but without it I could potentially pass an infection to her, even if I don’t feel sick (if I feel sick when we plan to meet, I cancel).

  11. Someone

    I’m 67 years old, and I’ve never had a flu shot in my life and have never had a problem. The flu vaccine carries no liability, and if it damages your body in any way, and I personally know two people that spent a week in the hospital from the vaccine, you’re on your own. If they’re so proud of their vaccine why is there no liability, and why do they hide what’s in it?

  12. jane

    Is that 80,000 deaths worldwide, or in the US? I consider overall numbers and statistical probabilities when I make a decision about most things. Even if the stats ARE just the US, given that there are about 400,000,000 people in the united states, the 900,000 still only represents about 1/4th of 1 percent of the population, or .25 percent, and the 80,000 even less.

    So it seems there’s a pretty sizable chance I WON’T get the flu. Now . . . what percent of those who get the vaccine have a significant reaction to it? I can’t be positive, but I’m guessing the odds of that are higher than the odds of getting the flu in the first place. We seem to live in an alarmist nation. Many of the alarms are sounded by big pharma and big medicine, who make it sound like there’s a high probability of dire consequences if one ignores their “recommendations”. Often it seems much expense and danger of side effects are incurred to allegedly help quite small percentages of people by having huge numbers of people take the drug, get the vaccine or whatever.

    Of course, since profits are the driving factor I guess the hype will continue about almost everything to do with health care. People need to seek out information and make decisions accordingly and not just jump through every hoop presented.

    • Sally

      It was over 80,000 in the US. This included very healthy young adults and 180 children.

  13. John
    Croydon, PA

    I wear inexpensive fabric gloves, having vinyl on palm and fingers, when in public places. I also wash the gloves. Less need to constantly wash hands.

  14. SJ

    We all need to support our immune systems to the max. Taking pre and probiotics, vitamin D, a good quality multi vit-mineral and eating lots of fresh veggies is key. Also, stay away from sugary foods. Soft drinks and many fruit juices are loaded with it. Artificial sweeteners aren’t any better and may be worse since they destroy your intestinal bacteria, which keeps your immune system in good order. Stay vigilant, and use a face mask whenever possible.

  15. Jerry
    La Habra, CA

    First and foremost, make a strong habit of never touching your nose or eyes unless you are in the bathroom, after your hands and face were washed. Picking your nose is a no-no, other than with a Q-tip. This is so because there are thousands of microscopic blood vessels on the very surface inside the nose (some of them directly connected to the brain), whose walls are extremely thin and permeable; a gate for infections. The eyes’ tear channels are connected to the nose.

  16. pam
    North Carolina

    You just lost me, and I’ll be unsubscribing. Anyone who actually recommends the flu shot isn’t someone I want to learn from or follow.

    • Zena

      I’m with Pam. I will be unsubscribing. I am alarmed there is an article here at the that encourages having a flu shot.

      • Bev

        These are pharmacists! They walk a very fine line because they are licensed professionals and encouraging the opposite of being a medical professional could put their license in jeopardy. Thankfully they have a home remedies section for balance.

    • Donna

      I will stay subscribed as you give valuable info. Most of the time but I agree with this comment about the flu shot and don’t understand why you would even consider it when it obviously doesn’t work and also after all the scare tactics to get the shot very shortly after there is a huge breakout of flu cases.

      I don’t get it because you are Pharmacists and feel the necessity to suggest it? So many get sick from the shot….some don’t and I wonder what is in Tamiflu that works that may be be taken to avoid the flu. It is obscenely expensive and just sounds fishy and another way to make money. Oh well maybe you will answer this as I don’t trust your advise like I used to before this article.

    • Sally

      Oh, my gosh, people calm down. No one said you absolutely had to get a flu shot. They said consider a flu shot along with several other ideas. Just because somebody says one little thing you don’t like doesn’t mean you cut them out completely. I think it is nice to get different opinions then make up my own mind.

    • Kat

      Don’t let the door hit you in the butt on your way out.

  17. Karen

    The flu vaccine may offer no extra benefit for the elderly. As a nutritionist I tell my clients to support their immune systems year-round to prevent the flu. This means eating in-season whole Foods and adding in fermented foods. And I agree with peoples pharmacy in regards to hand washing. I used to work in long-term care, and while others were getting sick I was not. I attribute that to my healthy lifestyle along with hand washing frequently at work with real soap while others would just use the anti-bacterial liquid to rub on their hands.

    • Cari

      I agree. It drives me crazy when visiting sick people in the ICU and watch the nursing staff dab a bit of hand sanitizer on one hand and rub it for one second. Don’t they teach hand washing in nursing school anymore? When I was a nursing student, it was a huge deal to wash hands correctly and it was one of the first things we learned.

  18. Marilynn
    NE Illinois

    I had a flu shot (for the elderly) on Sept 12, and came down with flu on Sept 24, 12 days later. The same thing happened last year. (I am 84 years old). I am fanatic on handwashing and use Lysol sheets to disinfect my tv remote, cell phone, and doorknobs and the like I only leave the house once a month for shopping for the month. And at the store (WalMart grocery), I use their disinfecting sheets at the door to clean off the cart handles.

    So why do I get flu every year anyway?

    • Bobby

      Maybe you get the flu every year from the flu shot.

  19. c

    Hmmm ok, here is what I think. The flu vaccination has cased health problems. I saw that in friends and my mother.
    It is not effective at a good enough percentage for me to chance getting side effects.

    How to avoid the flu?
    Eat right. Stop the sugar and processed foods, eat REAL organic. Do not believe the front label on products. Read what is actually in the product. When they say only such and such on the front label, and you turn it around, and there are different added other ingredients, they are not being very honest. Use vitamins that boost the immune system. Exercise.
    IMHO, if you do these things, you will have a better chance of avoiding the flu than what the vaccine gives you.

  20. Christine
    South Carolina

    My husband is 73, got the flu shot and then got the flu which he then gave to me. I don’t think the flu shot is the best for people over 70. However, washing of hands and covering mouth is most important. And if others would follow suit and stay home when sick…. that…. would be great.

  21. Malcolm

    I am a bit surprised that vitamin D3 is not on this list. I, my wife (a primary school teacher), and my three children have been taking the supplements through the winter months and the rest of the year when we work nights and don’t get much sun for 13 to 16 years and we have not got any colds or flu in that time nor have we got flu shots. Vitamin D as a flu preventative is pretty well known, more so than green tea and more effective.

    • CG
      Pacific Northwest

      I agree! My inclination to get even the common cold really went way down when I started taking D in the fall and winter months a few years ago.

  22. Maggie

    I am 61 years old. I have never had the flu or a flu shot. Every year I take care of at least one family member who has had the flu shot and also gets the flu. One year I thought I was coming down with Swine flu. 4 family members had it. I took an anti-viral drug and was totally fine 2 hours later.

    More studies need to be done on who gets the flu and why. More anti-virals should probably be prescribed early when symptoms 1st appear. There needs to be a study to see if getting a flu shot really helps decrease symptoms. It is often said but I believe it has not been studied.

    With my history I am frightened to get a flu shot, as it may weaken my natural immune system.

  23. Marilyn

    I have not found anyone to explain why the high-dose vaccine recommended for seniors contains protection for 3 strains of viruses, and the one recommended for under 65 has for 4 strains. Doesn’t that leave seniors completely vulnerable for that strain of virus?

  24. Anna
    London ,England

    TWO years ago I suffered the worse flue ever after a vaccination. It lasted 2 weeks after a high dose of antibiotics. This year I am dreading getting the same heavy flu.So…….I guess look after your immune system.

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