Fighting the Flu: Myths, Tips, & Advice
Through decades of research, scientists and physicians have learned more about the flu virus, helping provide excellent preventative measures like the flu shot. However, the flu can still find its way in and make us sick, whether due to more people opting out of the vaccine or a poor match during formulation. While there is no cure for the flu itself, there are ways you can help your body stay strong, fight back, and prevent spreading the virus to others. Be aware, though, that when it comes to the flu, there are many myths that have gained popularity that could prevent you from protecting yourself and others, and even make you weaker should you become ill.
There are various myths circulating about the flu, starting with prevention:
- “The flu shot gave me the flu.” Many people are under the belief that you can actually catch the flu from the vaccine, but since it is made using an inactivated virus, it is impossible to transmit the infection. It does take about two weeks to be effective, so those that end up getting sick around the time of receiving the shot were exposed to the virus externally, either just prior to or during that window of time.
- “I’m healthy, so I don’t need the flu shot.” Even if you are considered to be an otherwise healthy individual, it is possible to develop complications from the flu that can be life-threatening, so getting the vaccine is the best initial protection for you. Getting your flu shot also helps protect others who may be unable to get the shot, such as young children and those with other health conditions.
- “I got the flu shot last year. I don’t need it again this year.” It is important to get the vaccine every year as the virus constantly changes. Also, different strains will be more prominent than others each year, and the vaccine is developed to closely match the specific viruses to offer the best protection. On top of that, the antibodies you built up from last year’s vaccine are going to be much weaker by the next flu season, so the shot provides a boost to your immune defense.
Granted, the vaccine is only part of protecting yourself. Be sure to avoid anyone who is ill and practice good hygiene regularly, like washing your hands.
It is also a myth that the flu only results in complications for those with preexisting health conditions. Unfortunately, many do not see the flu as being a potentially dangerous illness that requires caution from everyone.
- “The flu isn’t that bad. It just feels like a bad cold.” It is true that for many, the flu can simply feel like a bad cold, but in reality, it has the potential to turn dangerous for anyone. Every year in the U.S., more than 200,000 people are hospitalized and 36,000 people die because of the flu.
In terms of flu transmission, people have their theories on that, as well.
- “Dress warm in the cold and don’t go out with wet hair – you’ll catch the flu!” If you aren’t exposed to the virus itself, you won’t catch the flu. People tend to believe this myth because flu season falls in winter, so some associate it with the cold weather.
- “I feel fine, so I’m not worried about spreading the flu.” The flu virus can be sneaky. 20% to 30% of people carrying the virus exhibit no symptoms, so it is still possible to spread the flu without actually being sick.
For those that actually come down with the flu, there are ways to help you feel better, but no way to cure the virus, so be cautious of some recommendations.
- “If you have a fever, starve it by not eating.” Whenever you are sick, giving your body more fluids and good nutrition are vital to help fight off the virus. Even if you don’t necessarily feel like eating, starving yourself will do more harm than good.
- “Just eat some chicken soup and you’ll feel better.” This recommendation doesn’t necessarily need to be ignored because the warm broth can help soothe your sore throat and provide your body with more fluids, but it doesn’t do anything more than provide momentary comfort.
- “My high fever has been around a few days. I need antibiotics.” The flu is a viral infection, so antibiotics will have no effect. However, it is possible to develop a bacterial infection as a complication, so if your symptoms worsen at all or are prolonged, be sure to see a doctor right away to be checked.
Flu Tips & Advice
The first piece of advice we always offer for flu protection is to be sure to get your annual flu shot. If you do happen to come down with the flu, there are some ways you can help alleviate your symptoms while your body fights off the virus.
- Visit the doctor for an antiviral medication. While antiviral medicines do not cure the illness, they can help lessen the severity and length of your symptoms. However, they can only be prescribed within 48 hours of the very start of symptoms, so you’ll have to get evaluated quickly.
- Stay home and rest. As soon as you begin feeling sick, make the decision to stay home for a few days to give your body the rest it needs and prevent spreading the illness to others as you are very contagious at this point. Don’t feel bad about laying on the couch reading, watching movies and napping – you need it!
- Stay hydrated. Keeping your body well hydrated aids your respiratory system and keeps mucus thin so it is easier to cough up and spit out. You don’t want thick mucus building in your lungs as it can quickly lead to infection. Drink plenty of water and even fruit juices or sports drinks. Broth-based soups like chicken noodle help as well.
- Treat your aches and fever. Make yourself more comfortable with acetaminophen, ibuprofen or naproxen. If you are not sure which to take, consult your physician and they will help. Steer clear of aspirin for those younger than 19 as it can lead to Reye’s syndrome which can damage the brain and liver.
- Bad cough? Treat it. While coughing is essential to clear your airways, frequent coughing can lead to more discomfort and hinder necessary rest. Use over-the-counter expectorants that essentially liquefy mucus, making it easier to cough up. No cough medicines should be given to children under the age of 4. If your throat hurts, suck on soothing lozenges to help moisten and coat your throat.
- Steam it. Steam from hot water in the sink mixed with a little bit of menthol rub can help open up your airways and stubborn congestion so you can breathe easier. If a small amount isn’t quite doing it, steam up the whole bathroom by running a very hot shower (while you are not in it; you don’t want to be burned in the process).
- Use a humidifier. Again, moisture can help ease congestion and coughing. If you use this method, steer clear of warm mist humidifiers as they easily promote bacteria and mold growth. Also be sure to keep any humidifier clean to avoid mold.
- Try saline drops. Saline nose drops and sprays are effective and safe for all ages. They will help moisten stubborn mucus in the nose so you can gently blow it out.
- See the doctor. Of course, if you experience any worsening or prolonged symptoms, contact your doctor right away. Be sure to also pay attention to your symptoms as some may require medical assistance to treat, such as:
- An earache or drainage from the ear
- Pain in your face or forehead paired with thick yellow or green mucus for over a week
- A fever 100.4 F or higher in infants less than 3 months of age
- A fever of 102 F or above in older children and adults
- Wheezing or shortness of breath
For any concerns regarding the flu, we are here to help. Whether you still need your annual flu shot, or have questions about treatments and remedies, visit one of our convenient locations or contact us today.