Separating flu myths from facts
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 5 to 20 percent of the population suffer from the flu every year. Deaths have ranged from an estimated 3,000 to 49,000 between 1976 and 2007. During a regular flu season, 90 percent of the deaths occur in those 65 and older.
And though it usually doesn't kill, the flu can have some nasty secondary infections like pneumonia, bronchitis and sinus infections, the CDC reports.
And despite all the misery flu can cause, there are millions of Americans who don't get a flu shot, partially due to persistent myths about the infection and the vaccination. Here are some of the most common:
•Flu shots cause the flu.
Probably the longest running and most believed myth about flu vaccinations. However, experts say getting the flu from the vaccine is "impossible."
Why? Simply because you can't get a flu from a dead flu virus -- and that's what's in the vaccination. The nasal vaccine, FluMist, does have a live culture -- but it has been attenuated, which means its ability to reproduce has been removed.
However, there are two possibilities for the myth persisting. One, the time to get a flu shot at its most beneficial is when colds and other respiratory infections are around.
It is possible to already be infected with these ailments when you get the vaccine. When the symptoms appear a few days later, it seems the vaccine is the cause, according to WebMD.
The other possibility is some people in the past developed mild flu symptoms after getting the vaccine, WebMD said. As vaccines progressed, now the side effects are pretty much limited to a sore arm, WebMD reported.
•There are no medications to treat the flu.
According to WebMD, there are now two highly successful antiviral drugs used in flu treatment -- the pill Tamiflu and the inhaler Relenza. Neither cure influenza, but they can decrease the length of sickness and your ability to pass it to others. For the most effective results, the drugs should be taken within 48 hours of flu symptoms. Tamiflu and Relenza are effective against seasonal and swine flu.
•Antibiotics can fight the flu.
No. Antibiotics are for bacterial infections. The flu is caused by a virus. Bacteria and virus are completely different animals. So, despite what a lot of people think, antibiotics have "absolutely no effect on any kind of flu," according to WebMD.
However, what taking antibiotics unnecessarily can do is create antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria in both the general population and you. According to WebMD, if a person takes antibiotics as a precaution against further complications, such as bacterial pneumonia, the new infection may be resistant to antibiotic taken prophylactically.
•The flu is only dangerous for the elderly.
Those 65 and older are mostly to become seriously ill or die from the flu. But children under the age of 2 have some of the highest rates of hospitalization from the flu, according to WebMD. Children younger than 6 months are particularly at risk because they are too young to be vaccinated.
Healthcare providers and the CDC recommend parents and caregivers of children -- infants especially -- get vaccinated against the flu.
•You have a "stomach flu."
No. You have a stomach virus. Influenza affects the respiratory system. In children, however, the can sometimes cause vomiting and diarrhea, according to WebMD. But in adults, these symptoms are rare.
•You can't get the flu more than once in a season.
Guess again. You can get the flu more than once in a season, simply because there is more than one strain circulating in a season, according to WebMD. So, theoretically, you can become sick with strain A at one time and strain B later.
•Vaccines cause other problems such as autism.
Despite the recent backlash against vaccines, there is no proof that they cause any developmental disorders, WebMD said.
However, concerned parents may ask for thimerosal-free flu vaccines. WebMD said every year manufacturers make more of this type of vaccine than are requested.