7 Flu myths and facts

Don’t believe everything you read about seasonal flu, say doctors at The Austin Diagnostic Clinic. Myths about the virus and the vaccine are common, especially on the Internet.

So how to you separate flu facts from fiction?

Dr. Sujata Jere, an ADC family practice physician, says the best way to make sure you’re getting the right information is to get it from a trusted source. That could be your doctor or a trusted source of information, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the Department of Health & Human Services.

Here are some of the most common myths, debunked.

  1. The seasonal flu is annoying but not that serious.

“Influenza infection is very serious and can cause health problems such as fatigue and secondary infections such as sinusitis and pneumonia,” Dr. Jere said.

The virus is also unpredictable. It can vary in severity from year to year depending on several factors, including what strains are spreading and how many people are vaccinated.

In fact, every year, more than 200,000 people have to be admitted to a hospital because of flu-related complications.

  1. The flu vaccine can give you the flu.

Dr. Jere says it’s simply not true that the vaccine can cause you to catch influenza.

Flu shots contain killed virus, so you can’t get the flu from a flu shot. But there are some possible side effects you should know about:

    • Soreness, redness or swelling where the shot was given
    • Low-grade fever
    • Aches

If any of these problems happen, they usually only last a day or two. On rare occasions, the vaccine can cause allergic reactions.

  1. Antibiotics can fight the flu.

“Influenza is a viral infection; antibiotics do not help it,” Dr. Jere said.

Antibiotics are designed to work against bacteria that cause disease, not viruses. In fact, you could cause more serious problems if you take antibiotics when you don’t need them. Health experts say it could increase your chance of developing an antibiotic-resistant infection.

If you come into contact with someone who has the disease, antivirul drugs can help prevent you from getting sick by reducing the virus’ ability to multiply. They’re effective about 70 percent to 90 percent of the time.

When taken early, antivirals can help make you recover more quickly and make symptoms less severe, but the CDC says the flu vaccine is the first line of defense.

  1. You can skip years between flu vaccinations.

Dr. Jere says the viruses that spread change every year, and as they change, the vaccine changes with them. Experts predict which strains will be most common and design the vaccine for the upcoming season.

This year’s vaccine contains three strains:

    • A/California/7/2009 (H1N1)-like virus
    • A/Victoria/361/2011 (H3N2)-like virus
    • B/Wisconsin/1/2010-like virus
  1. “Stomach flu” is a form of influenza.

“Stomach flu” is typically what most people use to describe an illness with nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. Dr. Jere says it can be caused by a viral infection, but its symptoms are not the main symptoms of influenza, which is a respiratory disease.

Symptoms include:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion
  • Body aches
  • Fatigue
  1. If you haven’t gotten the seasonal flu vaccine by a certain time, there’s no point getting vaccinated.

Health experts encourage everyone to get their shot as soon as it becomes available, but it’s still effective throughout the season.

“Flu season usually goes on till May, so you need to take flu vaccine until then — it will benefit you,” said Dr. Jere.

  1. Cold weather causes the flu.

Flu season does typically peak in the winter, but sickness is caused by a virus, not cold weather.

“In cold weather, people usually tend to gather indoors and come in close contact with each other,” said Dr. Jere, “That can help influenza spread faster.”

Healthy habits, like washing your hands often with soap and warm water, can help protect you when you’re inside and exposed to germs.