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November 13, 2019

Common myths about the cold and flu

Illness Flu Season

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Sick woman blowing her nose on the couch stefanamer /

As temperatures drop and the sounds of coughing and sneezing echo in crowded places like schools, public transportation, and busy shopping malls, individual (and often ineffective) methods of warding off illness rear their heads for a new season of popularity.

Though detox teas and high-zinc diets may ease the mind and create a false sense of security, they’re often unsuccessful in protecting you from getting sick. The next time you’re looking for ways to stay healthy and combat seasonal sickness, remember these common myths about the cold and flu.

The flu vaccine can’t give you the flu

Getting vaccinated for the flu is highly recommended, but some people avoid taking the precaution in fear it may directly cause the illness itself. Despite the CDC’s recommendation that everyone six months of age and older receive a flu shot, misunderstandings about how vaccines protect the immune system can prevent proper defense. Flu vaccines are given in two ways: by injecting an inactivated and therefore noninfectious strain of the virus into the blood stream, or by using only a single gene from the virus to encourage an immune response without causing a full infection. Neither option results in the flu, and a timely vaccine can reduce the risk of coming down with the flu by 40 percent.

Young people do need to worry about the flu

Though young people often have the health and strength to effectively fight off illness, the flu should not be underestimated—it’s symptoms can be severe. Symptoms like fever, extreme exhaustion, cough, and chest discomfort that can last up to two weeks even in the healthiest individuals. Although the flu is certainly more dangerous in children younger than five and adults older than 65, the 2017-2018 flu season was one of the deadliest in decades—taking the lives of many otherwise healthy individuals.

You can still be contagious without a fever

People often believe they can go back to work or school without the risk of spreading their illness to colleagues or peers as long as they don’t have a fever. While this isn’t completely untrue (not having a fever is typically a sign of good health), not all transmittable colds show tell-tale signs of contagion with a high temperature. In fact, if you have a common cold, you’re most contagious in the first two to three days—with or without a fever. The spread of illness can also precede physical symptoms, and sometimes doesn’t pass until day seven or ten. The flu is no different— the CDC warns that healthy adults can infect others a day before they even show symptoms.

Vitamin C isn’t a sure fix

There’s a common belief that reaching for a tall glass of orange juice or using a vitamin C supplement can be an effective cold remedy. Though making sure we have ample amounts of vitamin C in our diets does contribute to healthy immune function, bone structure, iron absorption, and healthy skin, evidence doesn’t support a sudden increase in vitamin C consumption is enough to thwart a cold. Instead of taking a vitamin C supplement at the first sign of a cold, doctors recommend maintaining a diet rich in fruits and vegetables—that way, you not only reap the benefits of vitamin C, but you also get additional vital nutrients that encourage a healthy immune system.

There’s no sure way to prevent catching a cold or coming down with the flu, but educating yourself about effective protective measures minimizes the risk of illness among you and your loved ones.

This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The information on this web site is for general information purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or health care provider on any matters relating to your health.

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