As Halloween has just passed and we're well into fall and soon winter, flu season is in full swing. Despite medical innovations and availability of vaccines, the flu virus continues to kill people across the world every year. The World Health Organization reported that flu epidemics result in 3 million to 5 million cases of severe illness and about 290,000 to 650,000 deaths each year.
Flu outbreaks usually occur during winter months. It's around these times that we come across a lot of myths regarding the flu.
Myths that tend to circulate seem to involve debates about what the flu actually is and how it's transmitted.
The flu is a contagious respiratory tract illness caused by the influenza virus. The three strains that can cause seasonal flu include influenza A (H1N1), influenza A (H3N2), and influenza B.
Here are the five most common flu myths.
The flu is just a bad cold.
This is completely false. Although colds and flu are both respiratory illnesses, they are caused by different viruses. The flu usually has worse symptoms. If you contract the flu virus, you'll know within a few hours. Symptoms of the flu include fever, runny nose, congestion, cough, tiredness, muscle pains, body aches, cold shivers, and hot sweats. If you have a cold you will typically only experience a runny nose or congestion with no serious complications.
If the flu is left untreated, it can lead to serious complications including pneumonia, heart, brain, or muscle tissue inflammation and multi-organ failure. If you have a serious case of the flu you may have to go to the hospital, especially if you're at high-risk for severe influenza complications. These high-risk groups include pregnant women, people over 65, children under 2, and people with underlying medical conditions like kidney or lung disease and diabetes. On average, people get over the flu within 3-7 days.
The influenza vaccine can give you the flu.
Sorry, this one is also not true. Because the vaccine doesn't contain live virus, you can't get the flu from getting the vaccine. When most people choose to get their vaccine, which is right before flu season, there are a lot of other respiratory viruses around that have symptoms similar to the flu. It's likely that the people who claim to have got the flu from the vaccine were infected by another type of respiratory virus and incorrectly attributed it to the flu shot.
Another reason why some people falsely think they contracted the flu from the vaccine is because the shot takes two weeks to kick in. This means that you could actually catch the flu during this waiting period. You're more at risk for catching it during this two week period if you waited until flu season started to get the shot.
If I got vaccinated then I don't have to worry about preventing the flu.
The flu vaccine is not 100% effective in preventing the flu. The effectiveness varies from person to person depending on different factors like age and health of the person receiving the shot. The effectiveness of the vaccine also tends to vary per year depending on how well the vaccine matches the current circulating influenza strain.
In addition to getting the vaccine, it's important to also wash your hands frequently with warm water and soap or with hand sanitizer. It's a good idea to stay away from sick people too.
Exposure to cold weather causes contraction of the flu.
Some people believe that being cold and exposed to winter weather causes the flu but the only way to catch the flu is by being exposed to the virus. The reason why people think cold weather causes the flu is probably because flu season coincides with cold weather so people tend to associate the two.
The flu virus is spread through droplets from infected people in the form of coughs, sneezes, and talking. Another way to contract the virus is by touching contaminated surfaces and then touching your eyes, mouth, or nose. These surfaces include commonly touched areas like door handles.
Antiviral medication should always be prescribed if you have the flu.
When treating the flu, you usually have to focus on reducing the symptoms and signs like a runny nose, body pains and tiredness. Doctors typically recommend bed rest, plenty of fluids, and symptom relief of congestion, fever, and cough.
Only if there's a risk of serious complications or if you're very sick will you be prescribed antiviral meds. The medication must be prescribed within the first 24-48 hours from the onset of symptoms to be most effective.