Flu: Myths versus facts

Did those who died from the flu get the vaccine?

In the midst of the 2017-2018 season, it seems myths and facts about the flu spread just about as quickly as the illness. So do masks protect you from the flu? What ways can you prevent the spread of the illness? Here are some answers to cut through the rumors. 

1. You can't spread the flu if you're feeling well

MYTH: You can actually spread the flu a day before you begin to feel symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Once you've contracted the flu, you can start to see/feel symptoms one to four days later.

"That means that you may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick," the CDC says.

In some cases, someone infected with the flu may never show symptoms.

"Actually, 20 percent to 30 percent of people carrying the influenza virus have no symptoms," according to an article on Harvard Health Publishing

After contracting the flu, adults can remain contagious anywhere from five to seven days while children can remain contagious more than seven days. 

2. You can catch the flu from going out in cold weather with wet hair or without a coat

MYTH: The only way to catch the flu is by being exposed to the influenza virus, according to Harvard Heath Publishing's "10 Flu Myths." Since flu season occurs during cold weather, the flu is often associated with colder temperatures. 

The CDC says people can contract the flu while up to six feet in proximity from a contagious individual. 

"Most experts think that flu viruses are spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk," the CDC says. "These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Less often, a person might also get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth or nose."

3. There's a high risk of contagion on a commercial flight

FACT: This is true but not likely for the reason you may believe. 

In a recent Verify report, WFAA reported: "Usually people blame getting sick on the recirculated cabin air, but an International Air Transportation Association study says that in-cabin HEPA filters get rid of 99.99% of germs and microbes in the air. Plus, only half the cabin air is recirculated. So, no, the cabin air won't get you sick."

However, just like in most small, crowded areas, there are many places where germs can thrive, including the bathroom. With usually only two bathrooms on a flight carrying dozens of people, it's a place to take extra precaution, such as using a paper towel as a barrier when touching surfaces. 

4. Wearing a mask can protect you from the flu

WELL, IT CAN'T HURT: While this has been debated for some time, the Mayo Clinic says recent studies show "it can't hurt and it might help."

Since the flu can spread through the air in droplets, wearing a mask could prevent them from entering your eyes, nose or mouth. This could also help "prevent the transmission from your hands to your mouth or nose," the Mayo Clinic says. However, you can still inhale small, airborne contaminants.

So, the CDC and Mayo Clinic emphasize the best way to protect yourself from the flu is to get vaccinated, wash your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds and avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Also, keep surfaces around you clean and disinfected.

5. Does chicken soup really help fight the flu? 

WELL, (ONCE AGAIN) IT CAN'T HURT: While you may not be prescribed it by a doctor, soup can ease flu symptoms and nourish your immune system, according to multiple studies.

"A present study ... suggests that chicken soup may contain a number of substances with beneficial medicinal activity," according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. "A mild anti-inflammatory effect could be one mechanism by which the soup could result in the mitigation of symptomatic upper respiratory tract infections."

Another study by the University of Nebraska Medical Center published in the journal CHEST is frequently referenced and also confirms chicken soup can ease symptoms. 

"The study’s focus was to find out if the movement of neutrophils – the most common white cell in the blood that defends the body against infection – would be blocked or reduced by chicken soup," read an article on the study. "Researchers suspect the reduction in movement of neutrophils may reduce activity in the upper respiratory tract that can cause symptoms associated with a cold." 

Soup can also help with hydration and provide nutrition and physical comfort.

5. Airborne prevents/cures colds/the flu

FALSE: Simple answer, no.

In 2008, the makers of the multivitamin and herbal supplement paid $23 million in a class action settlement agreement over their claims that it could cure and prevent colds, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest. The company once boasted that a clinical trial proved Airborne could help "combat germs" if taken during the "first sign of a cold symptom or before entering crowded, potentially germ-infested environments." However, an ABC News report later revealed that the trial was conducted without doctors or scientists. 

“Airborne is basically an overpriced, run-of-the-mill vitamin pill that’s been cleverly, but deceptively, marketed," said a nutritionist in the CSPI article. 

6. Tamiflu helps shorten the length of your illness

TRUE ... BUT: While Tamiflu and other prescription medication can help you recover a day faster, the National Center for Health Research says you may just want to use that day to stay home and rest rather than go to the doctor's office. 

"Tamiflu is heavily advertised, but many doctors believe that Tamiflu does not work well enough to justify the high cost of the drug, or the CDC recommendation that all patients take it.," says the non-profit NCHResearch. "These doctors point out that there is very little high quality evidence that Tamiflu reduces the rate of serious complications from the flu."

Once again, medical officials recommend first getting the vaccine and washing your hands to help prevent contracting the illness. 

© 2018 WFAA-TV


JOIN THE CONVERSATION

To find out more about Facebook commenting please read the
Conversation Guidelines and FAQs

Leave a Comment