Debunking common flu myths
The flu, or influenza, is a highly contagious respiratory virus caused by one of three different virus types: influenza A, B, or C. The primary way illnesses like colds and the flu spread from person to person is through the droplets that sick people expel when they cough and sneeze. You can also get the flu by exposure to saliva passed by contact, such as kissing or sharing eating utensils. Sometimes people get the flu because they touch an object or surface with flu virus on it, and then touch their eyes, nose, or mouth.
According to the CDC, Influenza has resulted in between 39 million – 56 million illnesses, between 410,000 – 740,000 hospitalizations, and between 24,000 – 62,000 deaths annually since 2010. If you’ve ever had the flu, you know how serious it can be. You’ve also probably received some good-intentioned advice from friends and family on preventing and treating the flu. With cold and flu season converging with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it’s about time to debunk those common flu myths.
Myth: The flu is just a bad cold.
The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. The flu is different from a cold, and the flu usually comes on suddenly. But according to the CDC, the 2019-2020 flu season led to about 18 million doctor visits, 24,000 deaths, and 410,000 hospitalizations. The flu is not something you should take lightly.
The flu symptoms include a fever of 102°F or higher, chills and sweats, muscle aches and headaches, chest pain, cough, stuffy nose, and appetite loss.
Myth: You can catch the flu from going out in the cold weather.
The only way to catch the flu is by being exposed to the influenza virus. Since flu season starts in October and peaks in January and February in the U.S., it coincides with cold weather. People often associate the flu with a cold and windy environment, but they are not related.
Myth: The flu includes gastrointestinal symptoms.
The symptoms of the flu are miserable, but digestive issues are rarely one of them. The misleading term “stomach flu” often refers to a group of viruses that primarily cause vomiting and diarrhea, but these viruses are not influenza.
Myth: You can catch the flu from the vaccine.
This myth is especially harmful as it is a myth that can deter people from vaccination. The flu shot is made from an inactivated virus that cannot transmit infection. Also, it takes a week or two to get the protection from the vaccine, so people who get sick after the vaccine assume the shot caused their illness. If you do get sick, it just means you contracted a different strain that wasn’t included in the vaccine. Either way, if you get the flu shot, you’ll be better protected.
Myth: Feed a cold, starve a fever.
If you have a fever, you need more fluids. There is little reason to increase or decrease how much you eat, and poor nutrition will not help you get better. While we’re on the topic of food-related treatments, chicken soup will not speed your recovery from the flu. Hot liquids can soothe a sore throat and provide fluids, but it has no other specific qualities that will speed your recovery.
Myth: The flu shot alone will protect you from contracting influenza.
The CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone six months of age and older is the first and most crucial step in protecting against the flu. In addition to a flu vaccine, you can take everyday preventive actions. These include staying away from people who have been sick, washing your hands frequently, using hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available, and disinfecting objects that get touched often.
The flu is an excellent example of how medical myths can hinder your medical care. The 2020-2021 flu season will be unlike any other in recent history, so taking all preventative measures is more important than ever before, including knowing the difference between myth and fact.
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