What's True About the Flu

Debunking common myths about the flu

Something you know: Influenza is highly contagious and is spread by airborne droplets and through contact with contaminated surfaces.

Something you might not know: Most transmissions occur in a different way—from healthy, unvaccinated children and adults who are infected and contagious but do not exhibit symptoms.


Here Martha Lansing, M.D., associate professor and vice chair of family medicine and community health at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey–Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, debunks common myths about the flu and explains why you should consider being inoculated if you are medically eligible to receive the vaccination:

Misconception: “The flu vaccine is only for the elderly or for people with low immune systems.”

Reality: While the vaccine is essential for individuals at high risk of complications from influenza, a great number of people work with or associate with those at high risk. Therefore, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all persons older than 6 months be vaccinated annually.

Misconception: “I don’t need to get vaccinated every year.”

Reality: The vaccine changes from year to year to cover the forms of the virus that are most likely to be circulating in the current year. The vaccine for the 2012–13 season covers Influenza A (H1N1), Influenza A (H3N2) and an Influenza B.

Misconception: “I will get the flu from the flu nasal mist since it contains the live virus.”

Reality: Vaccines for the flu are of two types: a killed virus and a weakened virus. Neither causes the flu. The nasal vaccine contains weakened viruses that may infect the nasal passages but cannot infect inner parts of the body such as the lungs.

Misconception: “If I get the flu, I’ll just get a prescription for antibiotics.”

Reality: There is no evidence that any antibiotic cures influenza. There are two antiviral drugs that can be effective in decreasing the severity and the duration of the flu. These should be used as soon as possible when one has symptoms of the flu, preferably within 48 hours of onset. Oseltamivir can be used for adults and children older than 6 months. Zanamivir is a nasal spray that cannot be used in children less than 5 years old and should be used with caution in those who are prone to asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.


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