10 Myths About the Common Cold and Flu

The sun may still be shining most of the day, the temperatures may still be above 70 degrees, and the pro football season hasn't kicked off yet. But around the country, some doctors are already receiving their shipments of flu vaccine.

With the start of flu season less than a month away, we took a look at 10 common bits of advice about colds and flu. Some of these common wisdom gems are, indeed, things you can and should do (it turns out that it's not too early for a flu shot -- and you might want to pick up some chicken soup). Others, however, are things you might want to pass on (the zinc and echinacea -- at least for now).

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Dr. Tim Johnson

While you may have heard some of these rumors since childhood, they aren't all things you really need to worry about. But some are useful to keep in mind.

Fact or Myth? If you get the flu vaccine too early in the year, your protection will wear off before flu season ends.

Answer: Myth

Some physicians already have their first flu vaccine shipments in, so people who believe this myth may be holding out when they don't need to.

The flu vaccine -- once understocked and reserved for the people most at risk -- is now readily available and recommended for everyone, so some doctors receive their shipments as early as August.

"I have now heard, this season, several times already, a concerned expressed that you can get vaccinated too early -- that you should wait until November because your protection may not last through February," when you are statistically most likely to get the flu, said Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of the department of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt Medical School.

But the vaccine lasts for at least a year, he said.

Schaffner said he has heard this expressed more among older patients. While he said that the flu vaccine may not respond or provoke as good a protection in those patients, it's not foreshortened.

"You can get vaccinated right now, and your protection will persist," he said.

Fact or Myth? You can catch the flu from a flu shot.

Answer: Myth

"That's the biggest myth, that's really huge. And it inhibits many people from thinking about getting their influenza injection," said Schaffner.

The idea rises from the popular misconception that the flu vaccine shot is a weakened form of the flu virus. The flu vaccine contains components of the flu virus but not a complete virus.

"There's no way that the shot can give you a complete influenza virus that can then make you ill," Schaffner said.

The reason many might believe that the vaccine can cause the flu, said Schaffner, is that people tend to get the flu vaccine in October or November, and then catch a cold from someone else.

Since the viruses that cause cold are contagious 24 hours before the symptoms appear, someone who had a flu shot and then caught a cold might believe he or she has the flu and can't think of another source because the person whom they got it from didn't appear sick.

Of course, in recent years, another form of the flu vaccine -- a nasal spray known as FluMist -- has also become popular.

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