Ever been fooled by a myth about the flu?
Are you sure you aren't being fooled by one… right now?!
'The flu vaccine can give me the flu.'
This fear began in 1979, when live-virus vaccines were used and people did get sick from them. But today, injectable flu vaccine uses dead virus and "is made up of only parts of the flu virus, so it cannot in any way give you the flu."
While the nasal spray variety of the vaccine uses a live, weakened virus, it can only multiply in the colder environment of the nose and can't give you the actual, full-blown flu. Sometimes people have a sore throat and runny nose for a day, but not the actual flu.
'The flu vaccine is dangerous, especially for pregnant women.'
The flu vaccine is given in the hundreds of millions of doses every year and is "extraordinarily safe." The flu itself is the threat, not the vaccine. There are very rare risks associated with any vaccine, but it's about weighing the benefits of vaccine against the risk.
"What is far more dangerous is taking the risk that you will get infected with flu if not vaccinated. Flu infection kills almost 40,000 people each year in the U.S. alone. Flu vaccine does not kill anyone."
'Young, healthy people don't need to be vaccinated because the flu is only dangerous for infants and the elderly.'
"The flu is a viral disease that can put you in bed and into the hospital very quickly, even in young, healthy people. Even if the flu only does this to one out of every 300 young healthy people, we can't pick those people out in advance, so we want to protect everyone. Vaccines have two functions: they protect the person who is vaccinated, but also everyone around that person — because the person will not spread the flu. And someone around that young, healthy person may have diabetes, or be elderly, or be a small infant, and you want to protect these people from getting sick."
'Getting the flu vaccine will completely protect me from getting the seasonal flu.'
Verdict: Not quite.
The flu vaccine is only about 59 percent effective at warding off flu, according to a 2011 review published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases. Nevertheless, experts say the flu shot is still the best defense against the virus.
'If I already got the flu this year, so I shouldn't bother getting vaccinated because I can't get it again.'
Verdict: Not quite.
Often, there is a misconception that there is just one influenza strain that circulates in any given season. If this were the case, then getting the flu once would provide your body with the antibodies necessary to fight off that flu and prevent you from coming down with the flu again that season.
'I got vaccinated last year, so I don't need to get the vaccine this year.'
Verdict: Definitely false.
Again, there are hundreds of different strains of flu virus, and these strains change constantly. Every year, the vaccine is made by selecting the three most common types of virus that are currently circulating.
'If I haven't gotten vaccinated by Christmas, there's no point.'
"Flu peaks in February and early March, so there's still time to get vaccinated, but that's why I say jog, don't walk, to the drug store to get vaccinated today."
'Catching a chill by sitting near drafty window or going out in cold weather will make me get the flu.'
Verdict: Mostly false.
Getting severely chilled to the point of hypothermia can make the immune system less resilient, which may make someone more susceptible to flu, doctors say, but you still have to come into contact with the flu to get the flu — and getting a chill, in and of itself, is not going to do it.
Also, your standard amount of "chill" from a drafty window or going out with wet hair is not going to be enough to predispose you to illness.
'Taking vitamin C or echinacea will prevent flu.'
Verdict: The data suggest false.
Despite speculation that taking large doses of vitamin C or echinacea will protect people from flu, the data just aren't there to support them as flu-fighters. There's some mixed evidence that these supplements will help fight off a cold, but when it comes to flu, these methods "strike out."
'Taking antibiotics will fight the flu.'
While antibiotics are sometimes used to control infection such as pneumonia that can accompany serious bouts of flu, antibiotics cannot treat viral infections like the flu. Antiviral mediation such as Tamiflu and Relenza can fight off the flu virus, but even these can only shorten the duration of the illness, not resolve it altogether.
'I should starve a fever, feed a cold.'
This old adage may sound nice, but there is "no science to prove that it works. You don't starve a flu, you need food and liquids for both [flu and cold]."
'The flu is a normal illness, so I should just stay at home and ride it out.'
Verdict: Not necessarily.
For most people who get the flu, staying at home and getting rest and plenty of fluids will be enough for their bodies to fight it off. But if your fever doesn't go away or your symptoms become severe, seek medical attention. Flu complications can become serious and antiviral medications or hospitalization may be needed.
Seeking immediate medical attention is especially important if you develop a headache and severe stiffness in your neck as this might be a sign of bacterial meningitis, not the flu.
Now, spread the word, everyone!
Vaccinations are SAFE and they help out the whole of the population — so there are no excuses to not stay safe!
[Image via AP Images.]