Many common myths and misconceptions surround the common cold and the flu (influenza). Knowing the facts will help you, your students, and your patients feel better this cold and flu season.
The flu shot can give you the flu.
False. This is the most common misconception about the influenza vaccine. The flu shot contains inactivated virus, which means it cannot infect the you with the flu. You may feel achy at the site of the shot, but unless you have an allergy, you won’t develop serious symptoms in reaction to getting a flu vaccine.
You need to get the flu vaccine annually.
True. The flu virus can change from year-to-year, and different strains can be more prevalent. A flu vaccination will last a year. Everyone over six months of age should receive an annual flu shot, unless the person is allergic to a component of the vaccine (for example, eggs). The shot is more effective than the flu mist.
Antibiotics can help with the symptoms of colds and flu.
False! Since colds and flu are caused by viruses, antibiotics do not help with recovery. In the case of influenza, there are antivirals available if it is caught early enough, within the first 48 hours. In general, the best treatment for colds and flu are going to be rest and fluids, such as hot tea and chicken soup. Over-the-counter medications can help relieve certain symptoms like a stuffy nose, and aches and pains. Pharmacists are a good resource to help with choosing OTC medications.
In the case that a cold or flu does result in an infection, antibiotics can help. If symptoms last longer than two weeks, seem especially severe, or are accompanied by a high fever, further treatment may be warranted.
Is It the Flu or a Cold?
Because both influenza and a cold are respiratory diseases, it can be difficult to tell which one you have.
The symptoms of a cold are usually milder. A runny or stuffy nose, light coughing, a feeling of fatigue are signs of a cold. The flu, if one hasn’t received a vaccination, is going to make one feel much worse: fever and chills, a sore throat, muscle aches, and difficulty breathing are sure signs one had contracted more than the common cold.
In addition, the flu will last longer, and can lead to more serious health consequences, especially in younger and older populations, and those who are unable to receive a flu shot. If left untreated, the flu can result in pneumonia, bronchitis, or myocarditis (inflammation of the heart), among other, more serious conditions. This is why a flu vaccine is so important.
If symptoms are accompanied by diarrhea or vomiting, it’s more likely to be norovirus, not influenza. Make sure to wash hands and clean surfaces to keep viruses from spreading.
CDC Influenza (Flu) Fact Sheet