If you've ever had the flu, you know how sick you can be. Chances are good that some of the advice friends and family gave you about avoiding or dealing with the flu was wrong. There seems to be no shortage of misinformation and bad advice when it comes to dealing with the flu or the flu shot, despite the widespread impact of the disease and the benefits of the vaccine. Here are just a few common myths about the flu:
1. MYTH: You can catch the flu from the flu vaccine.
FACT: A flu shot cannot cause the flu. The flu vaccine is made from an inactivated virus that cannot transmit infection. It takes a week or two to get protection from the vaccine. But people assume (mistakenly) that because they got sick after getting the vaccine, the shot caused their illness. The most common side effects from the flu shot are soreness, redness, tenderness or swelling where the shot was given. Low-grade fever, headache and muscle aches also may occur.
2. MYTH: Healthy people don't need to be vaccinated.
FACT: It's true that some people may have a greater risk for the flu, and the flu vaccination is routinely recommended for people who have a chronic illness. But everyone can benefit from being vaccinated. Current guidelines suggest that everyone 6 months of age and older, including those at high risk like pregnant women and seniors, should get vaccinated each year. In addition, the flu shot is recommended for healthy people who might spread the virus to others who are particularly susceptible. For this reason, health care workers and caregivers are routinely advised to get the flu vaccination to protect their patients.
3. MYTH: The flu is no more than a nuisance, much like the common cold, that cannot be prevented.
FACT: The flu is a severe respiratory illness that is easily spread and can lead to significant complications. Every year the flu kills 3,000 – 49,000 Americans. The CDC estimates that between 5 and 20% of people in the United States get the flu each year, and more than 200,000 are hospitalized due to complications including pneumonia and inflammation of the heart. You can help avoid getting the flu by getting vaccinated every year. Flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Seek medical advice quickly if you develop these symptoms to see whether you might need medical evaluation or treatment with antiviral drugs.
4. MYTH: Feed a cold, starve a fever.
FACT: If you have the flu (or a cold) and a fever, you need more fluids. You can very easily become dehydrated. 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 to get better.
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.