Almost every year, a rumour pops up about the flu - and that rumour spreads more easily now through email or the internet. Do you think you know the truth about the flu? Here are some common flu myths, busted.
Flu myth: "I am already vaccinated and therefore protected from the flu."
Truth: Although the flu vaccine does provide protection from the flu, it is not 100% effective for everyone. If the vaccine closely matches the influenza virus strains that are circulating this year, then the flu shot can prevent the flu in about 70% to 90% of healthy people. However, this also means that even if you received the flu shot, there's still a chance that you may get the flu (but if you do, you may experience milder symptoms).
In addition, it takes about 2 weeks after the flu shot before it gives you full protection, so you may still be vulnerable to the flu virus after getting the flu shot.
Sometimes, an influenza virus strain appears that is so different from previous strains that we have limited immunity to the strain, such as the H1N1 influenza virus that appeared in 2009. Other times, a flu shot may not be as effective because there is a "mismatch" between the flu virus strains used in the vaccine (which are based on predictions by experts) and the strains that actually circulate in the community. So, even a flu shot may not prevent you from getting the flu.
Seniors and people with a weakened immune system may not get the full benefit of a flu shot because their bodies do not respond as well as a healthy adult's to the flu vaccine. This means that they may still be vulnerable to the flu and its complications despite getting the flu shot.
If you have received the flu vaccine but you still get the flu, consider the flu treatments available. Antiviral medications may reduce the length of the flu if taken within 48 hours of the start of symptoms. You should learn to recognize flu symptoms early so you get treatment as soon as possible. If you are at risk of flu complications, see your doctor as soon as you have symptoms.
Flu myth: "I can let the flu run its course."
Truth: For most healthy people, the flu will run its course of making you feel sick for about 7 to 10 days, and then it will go away. However, for some people, the flu is a more serious infection and can lead to other illnesses such as pneumonia, sinus infection, bronchitis, or ear infection. It can also make existing medical conditions (like asthma or congestive heart failure) worse and increase the risk of hospitalization. For these high-risk people, it's important to get a flu shot to help prevent the flu and to recognize flu symptoms as soon as possible. As soon as they notice flu symptoms, they should talk to their doctor, who may recommend antiviral medications. Antiviral medication can decrease the length of time you have the flu if taken within 48 hours of the start of flu symptoms.
Flu myth: "Antibiotics and herbal products work to treat the flu."
Truth: The flu is caused by the influenza virus. To treat viruses, medications that work against viruses must be used; these are called antiviral medications. Antibiotics, on the other hand, fight against infections caused by bacteria, which are different from viruses.
Herbal products have long been used to help treat illnesses, including flu infection and the common cold. Echinacea, ginseng, vitamin C, and zinc have been studied for their effects on flu infection. There is some evidence that some of these products may possibly help prevent or treat the common cold. Unfortunately, there is not enough evidence to support that any of these actually work to treat flu.