There’s a lot of confusion around how to avoid getting the flu. Does the flu shot protect people from this dangerous virus? Are there different strains of the virus? Can you get the flu more than once each winter? What can you do to avoid getting the flu? Let’s cover five common flu myths and set the record straight:
Flu Myths 1: You’ll get the flu if you go out in cold weather without a coat or if you stay outside in winter while it’s raining and wet.
The flu virus is transmitted from person to person. It has nothing to do with cold weather or failing to dress appropriately for frigid temperatures. The CDC reports that you can get the flu if you are closer than 6 feet to someone who has it and they cough or sneeze. Touch elevator buttons, an ATM screen, shopping cart handles or any surface that a flu-infected person touched, and then feel your face, and you’ve been exposed to the virus.
Regardless of the season or weather, it’s possible to get the flu. If you think you have the flu, you can see your health care provider to find out for sure. If you test positive for influenza, you may find some relief with antiviral medication. Many people just wait it out. Symptoms should subside within a week for otherwise healthy people.
Flu Myths 2: Unless you are throwing up or have diarrhoea, you don’t have the flu virus.
Flu symptoms include a fever, chills, body aches, headaches, fatigue and a stuffy or a runny nose. If you are throwing up or have diarrhoea, you probably have gastroenteritis. When your intestines and stomach are inflamed, it means you’ve been exposed to bacteria or parasites as a result of person-to-person transmission, food-borne illness or unclean water. Swollen lymph glands, fever and headache, may accompany gastroenteritis.
Viruses that cause stomach irritation include rotavirus, norovirus and cytomegalovirus. Bacteria that can cause throwing up and diarrhoea include salmonella, E. coli, Shigella and Campylobacter.
Stomach problems may require medical attention if they persist for more than 24 hours or become severe very quickly.
Flu Myths 3: You can’t transmit the flu unless you have symptoms.
Many people are infected with the flu but don’t realise they are sick until they’ve carried the virus for one to four days. A healthy adult with the flu virus can transmit it to others for up to a week after they get sick. Some even have the flu without ever showing symptoms.
The flu travels quickly through families and people who live and work near each other because of how it spreads. Proper handwashing, being conscious of not touching your face and regularly disinfecting surfaces, door handles, light switch plates and toys will help limit the transmission of the virus.
Flu Myths 4: People over the age of 65 who are in good health shouldn’t worry about the flu.
If you are over the age of 65 or under the age of 5, you are statistically more likely to develop life-threatening complications if you get the flu. Pregnant women, people living in long-term care facilities and people with certain medical conditions should talk to their doctor about whether a flu shot is an excellent choice for their specific situation.
People with liver, kidney or heart problems who aren’t in the other risk groups should also have a conversation with their doctor about how contracting the flu virus may affect their health and well-being.
Chronic lung disease, people with a body mass index of 40 or more, and people with asthma may also have reason to be primarily concerned about the flu virus and how it will impact them.
Flu Myths 5: If you get the flu shot, you are exposing your body to the flu, and you could get the virus right away.
Flu shots are made with the flu virus, but it’s been inactivated and doesn’t pose a risk of infection to the person receiving the vaccination. Some versions of the flu shot don’t contain any flu virus at all. Frequent complaints of side effects from the flu shot include swelling, tenderness and soreness at the injection site. Some people may get a headache or a low-grade fever, but it will resolve quickly.
For people who are at risk for complications from the flu, getting a flu shot is an option worth discussing with a doctor. Primary care physicians have access to the individual’s medical records and can consider side effects of getting the flu shot as well as the advantages.
There are a few things that are important to understand about the flu. Proper and frequent hand washing is crucial to stopping the spread of this virus. It’s also smart to refrain from touching your face. Think about objects that touch surfaces as well. The bottom of a purse, a pair of gloves and your credit card could all harbour flu germs.
If you are unsure about whether you should get the flu shot this year, discuss your concerns with your doctor. People who work closely with the public and healthcare workers may experience more exposure to flu germs. Educating yourself is the first step to avoiding the flu.