Common Flu Myths

Misconceptions about the flu spread as easily as the flu itself. Most of these myths are based on faulty medical knowledge or a partial understanding of influenza.

Here are 10 flu misconceptions -- and the realities:

Myth No. 1: The flu vaccine can give you the flu.

"Probably the most common and dangerous myth about the flu is that you can get it from the flu shot," said Dr. Lee Green of the University of Michigan's Department of Family Medicine in Ann Arbor. "This leads to some really high-risk patients endangering themselves."

In fact, the vaccine cannot give you a case of the flu, because it is made with inactivated organisms.

Myth No. 2: The vaccine is only for the elderly.

The vaccine is for anyone who wants to reduce his or her chance of getting the flu. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the flu vaccine particularly for children aged 6-23 months, pregnant women in the second or third trimester, people with chronic medical conditions and the elderly.

Myth No. 3: By January, it's too late to get the vaccine.

It takes about two weeks for your body to make protective influenza antibodies. According to the CDC, the best time to get vaccinated is October or November, but getting the vaccine in December or later in the flu season will still protect you against the flu.

Myth No. 4: Taking vitamin C or echinacea will prevent the flu.

Neither treatment has been conclusively proven to be effective against the flu.

Myth No. 5: Antibacterial soaps are effective preventives.

Antibacterial soaps are useless against the influenza virus. Regular hand washing, however, is a simple and effective way to reduce the transmission of contagious diseases, including the flu.

Myth No. 6: Going out in cold weather causes the flu.

Cold weather gets a bad rap for causing colds and flu. While the influenza virus is more prevalent during the winter months, cold weather does not cause the flu.

Myth No. 7: There's no treatment except rest, aspirin and mom's chicken soup.

Mom's chicken soup may be great, but antiviral medications are now available from your physician if you come down with the flu. According to Dr. Greg Anderson of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., most people aren't aware of antivirals, which can have some benefit if started within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. Because they're not aware, Anderson adds, they don't come in early enough. The CDC also recommends that aspirin not be given to children under the age of 18, as this may cause a rare but serious illness called Reye's syndrome.

Myth No. 8: Starve a fever, feed a cold.

Either way, if you feel sick, drink plenty of fluids and eat sensibly, enough to satisfy your appetite.

Myth No. 9: Take antibiotics to fight the flu.

"The demand for useless antibiotics is endless. The flu is just one reason," Green said. Antibiotics are not effective against viruses like influenza. Doctors also warn that taking antibiotics will not prevent you from developing pneumonia, and it may increase your chances of getting a resistant strain of the disease.

Myth No. 10: Flu causes a number of illnesses, including stomach ailments.

Doctors complain that people use the word "flu" to describe a number of symptoms that have nothing to do with influenza. "People commonly refer to various stomach bugs or any bad cold as the flu," says Green. "Most don't really know what influenza is: a severe respiratory viral illness."