Saturday, January 31, 2015

Did you know? 11 myths about colds and flu

not a big fan of the cold....or the flu!
It's cold here on the East Coast of the U.S., and I for one, am not a huge fan. No huge fan needed these days...

Winter cold means people, like me, all across the northern climates are huddling together indoors, taking the bus, car, or train to work instead of walking or cycling, and generally being near others, all of which increases the chances of coming into contact with germs, particularly for cold and flu.

We are mid-way through the flu season here, and the virus is still spreading.

If you've ever had the flu, you know how awful it feels, and it's likely that some of the advice you received from friends and family about dealing with the flu was wrong.

With all the misinformation and bad advice when it comes to dealing with the flu, here are 11 common myths you should consider:

MYTH: Healthy people don't need to be vaccinated.

A flu shot is recommended each year for kids 6 months to 19 years old, pregnant women, and adults over age 49 or who have a chronic illness, but even healthy people can benefit from being vaccinated. Not only for their sake: medical sources also recommend that health care workers and others who might spread the virus to others get the flu vaccination.

MYTH: Getting the flu vaccination is all you need to do to protect yourself from the flu.

If flu germs were visible...
message from the UK's National Health Service
Unlikely.  The flu shot in the U.S. this year is apparently less effective than hoped, as the strains currently circulating differ from the ones against which it was developed.

Flu viruses change constantly, and medical experts must pick which viruses to include in the vaccine months in advance in order for the vaccine to be produced and delivered on time.

There are several steps you can take to protect yourself during flu season besides vaccination.

Touching surfaces that have been sneezed on or shaking hands with people who have the flu are easy ways to catch flu, washing your hands frequently and not touching your mouth, nose, or eyes with dirty hands reduces your chance of infection substantially.

MYTH: You can catch the flu from the vaccine.

The vaccine is made from an inactivated or a weakened virus that can't transmit infection, but it takes roughly 2 weeks for it to protect you.

People who get sick after receiving a flu vaccination either already contacted it or have a strain of the virus that differs from the ones in the vaccine. They were going to get sick anyway.

MYTH: The flu is just a bad cold.

The influenza virus that causes flu is different from those associated with colds, and it causes additional symptoms. With the flu, you usually have not only the congestion and cough, but you ache all over and often have a fever, which are both unlikely with just a cold. Flu makes you feel really terrible. It can also cause additional health complications.

Most people suffer through the misery and recover just fine, but in the U.S. alone, tens of thousands of people die and more than 200,000 are hospitalized each year because of the flu.

cold vs flu: not the same animal
image: SparkPeople
not the same strategy either
image: SparkPeople

MYTH: You can't spread the flu if you're feeling well.

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

MYTH: You don't need to get a flu shot every year.

Yes, you do. 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. This year, influenza A (H3N2) virus strains have been the most common, and year with these strains are associated with more severe illness than those dominated by the B (H1N1) strains.

MYTH: 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 the cold weather, so people often associate the flu with a cold, drafty environment. While we may cram together inside to stay warm, they otherwise aren't related.

MYTH: You can't avoid it.

Yes, there is no guarantee, but there are ways to greatly minimize your risk of flu, mainly by keeping the virus away from your eyes, ears, nose, and mouth.

chicken soup: doesn't speed recovery 
but it's better for you 
than for the chicken 
image: ClipartPanda
If you must touch surfaces that have been sneezed on or wiped with hands that have caught sneezes – such as the hand rails or exit buzzers of buses – you can reduce the chances of you picking up a virus this way by remembering not to put your fingers in your mouth, nose or eyes until you've been able to wash your hands. Keeping your “hands down” and washing them when you get home reduces the virus's contact with your body to a minimum.

MYTH: Feed a cold, starve a fever.

If you have the flu (or a cold) and a fever, you need more fluids. There's little reason to increase or decrease how much you eat.

Though you may have no appetite, "starving" yourself will accomplish little. And poor nutrition will not help you get better.

MYTH: 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. Unless it was prepared by a unicorn.

image: Memey

MYTH: 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 won't cure a viral infection like a cold or flu. They could treat a bacterial infection that might develop as a complication of the flu, so it's a good idea to get checked out if your symptoms drag on or worsen. There are antiviral drugs that can be prescribed by doctors to lessen flu symptoms, and possibly prevent serious complications, which could be critical for people with high-risk medical conditions.

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.  Here are a mountain of flu season FAQs from the Center for Disease Control.

And if 10 flu myths isn't enough, you can read below or click here for another 30 - and stay healthy!