10 Misconceptions About Cold and Flu

Sort out fact from fiction in these common myths.

ByABC News
September 19, 2008, 11:06 AM

Oct. 28, 2008 — -- Perhaps because most of us have had firsthand experience with colds and flu, there's no shortage of misconceptions and old wives' tales that get passed along about them.

But simply because we're well acquainted with these familiar bugs -- and have come to expect getting the sniffles or a scratchy throat when the weather turns nippy -- it doesn't mean that we're always well informed about how to prevent or treat them.

In fact, many people remain unclear on the exact difference between a cold and the flu. While the lines are often blurred by preconceived notions, colds are known to be pretty common occurrences in adults and children every year. The flu, on the other hand, happens less frequently and affects 5 percent to 20 percent of Americans annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

So, do you think you're up to date on your cold and flu knowledge? We've run some common cold and flu myths by the experts and asked them to set the record straight. See if you can spot the truth from the false statements below.

Verdict: False

Although most people get vaccinated between October and November, it's not too late to get a flu shot in December, January and February, said Curtis Allen, a CDC spokesman for the national immunization program. In most years, he said, influenza peaks in February or later, and it takes about two weeks for the vaccine to become effective.

Allen said that most people probably get vaccinated before the end of November because afterward they start thinking about the holidays. And some of the retail stores or pharmacies with flu clinics might shut them down by early December to free up space for holiday shopping.

Allen noted that December or beyond is still a good time to get your flu shot because many people are traveling, out of school or on vacation, and they may come in close contact with others who have the flu and then bring it home with them. The flu shot can still be protective whether you get it in October or February.

Verdict: False"Anybody with a healthy immune system can develop a cold or the flu," said Dr. Erica Brownfield, an associate professor of medicine at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. Coming down with a cold means that you've been exposed to the virus -- which enters your body through the nose, mouth or eyes -- and that your immune system wasn't successful at resisting the infection.

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More than 200 viruses (mainly the rhinovirus) can cause the common cold, and your immune system may not yet have built up resistance to the one you came in contact with. That doesn't mean it's falling down on the job.