Flu myths dispelled

letter to editorThere seems to be no shortage of misinformation and bad advice when it comes to dealing with the flu. Here are 10 common myths about the flu.

  • You can catch the flu from the vaccine: The vaccine is made from an inactivated virus that can’t transmit infection. So people who get sick after receiving a flu vaccination were going to get sick anyway. It takes a week or two to get protection from the vaccine.
  • Healthy people don’t need to be vaccinated: Anyone — even healthy folks — can benefit from being vaccinated. Current guidelines suggest that children ages 6 months to 19 years old, pregnant women, and anyone over age 49 be vaccinated each year. In addition, the flu shot is recommended for healthy people who might spread the virus to others who are particularly susceptible.
  • Getting the flu vaccination is all you need to do to protect yourself from the flu: Avoid contact with people who have the flu, wash your hands frequently, and consider taking anti-viral medications if you were exposed to the flu before being vaccinated.
  • The flu is just a bad cold.

Influenza may cause bad cold symptoms. But in the U.S. alone, 36,000 people die and more than 200,000 are hospitalized each year because of the flu.

  • You can’t spread the flu if you’re feeling well.

Actually, 20 to 30 percent of people carrying the influenza virus have no symptoms.

  • You don’t need to get a flu shot every year.

The influenza virus changes (mutates) each year. So getting vaccinated each year is important to make sure you have immunity to the strains most likely to cause an outbreak.

  • You can catch the flu from going out in cold weather without a coat, with wet hair or by sitting near a drafty window: The only way to catch the flu is by being exposed to the influenza virus. Flu season coincides with cold weather but they are not related.
  • Feed a cold, starve a fever.: If you have the flu (or a cold) and a fever, you need more fluids.
  • Chicken soup will speed your recovery from the flu: Hot liquids can soothe a sore throat and provide much needed fluids. But chicken soup has no other specific qualities that can help fight the flu.
  • If you have a high fever with the flu that lasts more than a day or two, antibiotics may be necessary: Antibiotics work well against bacteria, but they aren’t effective for a viral infection like the flu. However, some people can develop a bacterial infection as a complication of the flu.

The flu is a good example of how medical myths can get in the way of good medical care. When it’s flu season, take the necessary steps to stay healthy. That includes separating fact from myth.

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