The Truth About Flu

Sort the facts from hype when it comes to the flu.
mother checking child's temperature

Myth: A flu shot causes the flu.

Fact: This is a big misconception, says Niranjan Bhat, medical epidemiologist in the influenza branch of U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The flu shot is made with a killed virus, so it's impossible to get the flu from one. The flu is transmitted by touching a surface -- such as a doorknob or telephone -- that has been contaminated by someone who is sick. The flu virus can also pass through air and enter your body through your nose or mouth.

Myth: Older people spread the flu most.

Fact: Actually, children are the real germ factories. They are two to three times more likely to get the flu than you, says Bhat. The reason? They love to put their hands in their mouths or rub their eyes and nose. So reduce your children's chances of contracting the flu by ensuring they carefully wash their hands often. Regular use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers may also help.

Myth: Vitamins and supplements will protect you from the flu.

Fact: The best way to prevent the flu is to get a vaccination. Flu vaccinations have to be formulated differently each year to adapt to the changing forms of influenza that are prevalent each season. All children over the age of 6 months should also get the vaccine. Call your doctor for details. NOTE: The flu vaccine does not protect you against bird flu, which is an entirely different strain.

Myth: Antibiotics can help flu symptoms.

Fact: Often when people get the flu, the first thing they'll do is ask for antibiotics. This doesn't help. Antibiotics kill bacteria, not viruses such as the flu. However, some antiviral medications can help: Tamiflu (oseltamivir), Flumadine (rimantadine), and Symmetrel (amantadine) can speed recovery if taken within 48 hours of the first symptoms.

Myth: You're needed back at work.

Fact: Immediately stay home from work or school. You may spread the flu before symptoms start and up to four days after your symptoms are gone.

Myth: You can catch bird flu from eating chicken.

Fact: The avian flu you've been hearing about has spread through contact with the droppings or saliva of live poultry. Properly cooked, chicken or other poultry poses no risk.

Myth: The threat has passed when flu season ends.

Fact: That's true for ordinary flu but not for bird flu, which is present throughout the year. Keep up-to-date by checking the CDC's Web site at cdc.gov. Click on "avian influenza."

Myth: We're safe in the United States.

Fact: There's a real risk that the avian flu may spread to the U.S. Past threats such as SARS quickly fizzled and the hope is that the pattern will repeat itself with bird flu. But influenza can, and has, caused worldwide epidemics, called pandemics. The progression of bird flu is similar to what may have happened in other pandemics.