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Separating flu facts from fiction

Separating flu facts from fiction
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There is a lot of superstition and nonsense surrounding the flu virus and vaccines, say experts. Here’s what you need to stop believing now.

Myth: You’re only contagious when you have a fever

Myth: You’re only contagious when you have a fever
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A fever is a sign your body is fighting invading viruses, bacteria, or other pathogens – but you’re not well the moment your fever disappears. “Some people take cough syrup or Tylenol, which can reduce fever. You think your fever is gone, but you’ve only taken medication to reduce it,” says Dr Saralyn Mark, MD, president & CEO of SolaMed Solutions, LLC. Despite your normal temperature, you could very well still be sick – and sharing the virus.

Plus, Dr Mark says, the older you are, the less likely you are to have a high fever. “I’ve had older patients that were so ill they were in shock, but they didn’t have a fever,” she says. “They just don’t have the ability to mount a fever, so I tend not to use it as an indicator.”

Myth: You can get the flu from the flu vaccine

Myth: You can get the flu from the flu vaccine
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Experts stress again and again that this myth isn’t true, and yet it is the most common – and a most dangerous – misconception. The confusion is due to the fact that it can take a couple of weeks for protection to kick in, says Robin Jacobson, MD, paediatrician. “Since people get the flu shot usually during cold and flu season, it is possible to get sick around the time you are getting a flu shot.”

These are the 15 health myths that make doctors cringe. 

Myth: If you don’t have symptoms, you’re not infectious

Myth: If you don’t have symptoms, you’re not infectious
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You can share the virus for 24 to 48 hours before you show a single symptom. Every person you come into contact with during that time could become ill because of you. “You always have to be cautious,” Dr Mark says. “You don’t know who’s sick. They may not know they’re sick.” Keep your distance to avoid sneezes, coughs and saliva – and keep washing your hands regularly.

Worse, you can continue to spread the flu up to five days after you become ill. If you head out or back to work too soon, you could be infecting everyone you come into contact with.

Steal these 20 secrets from people who never get sick. 

Myth: A bad cold can turn into the flu

Myth: A bad cold can turn into the flu
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“The flu is caused by a different virus and produces more severe symptoms than the common cold virus,” says Sanjay Sethi, MD, a medical reference author with Merck Manuals. “It also affects cells that are much deeper in the respiratory tract than the common cold virus and causes more damage to those cells.”

If your symptoms are more severe than a typical cold but not as severe as the flu, you could have picked up any number of viral infections that run rampant during the cold and flu season. Some of them even mimic flu symptoms, but won’t show up on virus tests.

This is how to decrease your chances of getting a cold. 

Myth: Wearing a mask can prevent the flu

Myth: Wearing a mask can prevent the flu
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Some people are fond of wearing a hospital mask during the season when they go to the grocery store or mall, but this measure won’t do much to protect them. “Masks usually don’t help prevent the flu,” says Thomas S. Ahrens, PhD, RN, FAAN, founder, chief scientist and learning officer at Viven Health. That’s because you can pick up the virus on your hands and catch it by rubbing your eyes, nose, or mouth. “There are some situations where wearing a mask may be helpful,” Dr Ahrens adds, “like if you’re in a crowded area and someone close to you is sick, particularly if he or she is coughing.”

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Myth: Only people with chronic illness should get the flu vaccine

Myth: Only people with chronic illness should get the flu vaccine
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You’ve likely heard that young children, older people and individuals with a compromised immune system should get the flu shot. They should – but so should everyone else. “Getting an annual flu vaccination is the best way for healthy children and adults to avoid getting the flu and avoid spreading it to others,” Dr Sethi says. “It’s especially important for people at high risk for complications from the flu, such as older adults and pregnant women. Those who are considering whether a flu vaccination is right for them should speak with their doctor.”

These 51 facts you’ve always believed are actually false. 

Myth: Healthy people are less likely to get sick

Myth: Healthy people are less likely to get sick
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“Strong immune systems are wonderful,” Dr Ahrens says. However, he adds, even the healthiest body still needs to develop antibodies to the specific flu virus – and that won’t happen until it makes you sick and your immune system mounts a response to the invader. “Your natural immunity does not have natural antibodies for the flu virus,” he explains.

“If you’re in good health, you don’t necessarily have antibodies to flu viral strains,” agrees Linda McIver, FNP-C, founder of 2U Medical, Inc. “Getting a flu shot is optional for healthy people; it can help you form antibodies against the most common flu viral strains of the season, which will keep you in good health.”

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Myth: Antibiotics can fight the flu

Myth: Antibiotics can fight the flu
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People are still confused about this: The flu is a viral infection. Antibiotics are for bacterial infections. That’s why antibiotics can’t and shouldn’t be used to treat the flu. “Most of the illnesses that people get are viral, and in most cases, there are not any treatments,” Dr Jacobson says. “There are some antivirals like Tamiflu that can be given to people who have the flu, but they must be treated within 48 hours of getting the disease.” Antibiotics are only helpful if you have an ear infection, pneumonia, or strep throat, she says.

Here are 6 more myths about the human body that we’ve quashed. 

Myth: If you have an egg allergy, you can’t get the flu shot

Myth: If you have an egg allergy, you can’t get the flu shot
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Numerous studies have analysed this danger, says Kathleen Dass, MD. They consistently show that the concern is overblown, Dr Dass says. “In fact, in the CDC’s most up-to-date guidelines, they recommend receiving the influenza vaccine no matter what a patient’s reaction to eggs is.” She adds that if you’re still hesitant because of an egg allergy, there are two egg-free vaccines available – Flucelvax and Flublok.

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