Debunking the Myths, Misconceptions, and Misinformation
About the Flu:
- MYTH: You can get the
flu from the vaccine. False. The vaccine is made with inactivated
organisms that can't cause disease.
- MYTH: The vaccine
is only for seniors. The flu vaccine is for anyone at risk.
- MYTH: The vaccine prevents
influenza completely. The influenza vaccine's effectiveness varies
each year and depends on two things: the Center for Disease Control's (CDC)
prediction and the strength of a person's immune system. The CDC predicts
what strains will cause the next year's outbreak. In 1997-1998, however, the
dominant influenza strain didn't evolve until after the vaccine was made,
so its effectiveness was diminished. All vaccines give some immunity to related
strains and make antiviral medications work better, so receiving a vaccine
is still beneficial. Immune system function varies considerably. Ironically,
the vaccine is less effective for those people who need it most, such as those
over age 65 or those taking medications for AIDS or cancer.
- MYTH: Only old people
get bad flu. False. People of all ages get flu. People over 65 do
have less protective immune systems just as do children under 12. Both age
groups may experience more severe symptoms as a result. Several other groups
are at high risk as well.
- MYTH: Flu can't kill
you or cause any other serious problems. False. 20,000-40,000 Americans
will die each year from complications of the flu. Influenza and pneumococcal
pneumonia together are the 6th leading cause of death in Americans over age
65. In addition, some experts believe that one of the long-term complications
of the flu may be chronic fatigue syndrome, a debilitating condition that
affects approximately 500,000 Americans.
- MYTH: If I take echinacea,
I don't have to worry. False. In clinical studies, echinacea was
found to be as effective as placebo in preventing colds and the flu. Some
studies suggest that this herb improves immune function and may reduce the
severity and duration of a cold, not the flu.
- MYTH: I take Vitamin
C; I have nothing to worry about. False. While there is a belief
that Vitamin C may reduce the frequency, severity and duration of colds, this
has not been proven in clinical trials.
- MYTH: It's too late to
get the flu vaccine this season. False. It takes 4-6 weeks for the
vaccine to build sufficient flu-fighting antibodies. If you get the vaccine
right away, you may be able to prevent this season's flu, which peaks between
Dec. and March.
- MYTH: Influenza is the
same every year. The influenza virus changes every year. Sometimes
new strains develop which even seriously affect the healthy. Two particularly
deadly mutations in the influenza virus caused the 1918 Spanish Flu, which
killed 500,000 people, and the Asian flu in 1957-58, which killed 70,000 people
in the U.S. alone. Type A Sidney, new in the 1997-98 flu season, appeared
to be responsible for doubling the flu's death toll last year. Some researchers
are warning that we are overdue for another major flu epidemic in the near
- MYTH: It's easy to know
when you have the flu. Influenza is actually difficult to diagnose
without a test. Specialists trained in recognition of influenza will typically
diagnose influenza correctly only a third of the time. In patients that later
prove to have influenza, doctors often make a diagnosis of a bacterial illness
like sinusitis, pharyngitis or bronchitis nearly two out of three times. These
diagnoses, of course, lead to treating patients with antibiotics. Inaccurate
diagnosis is the common reason for overuse of antibiotics and the related
- MYTH: There is no way
for doctors to diagnose influenza for sure. A new rapid throat swab
test that is 99.9% accurate for influenza prevents the wrong diagnosis and
subsequent antibiotic usage.
- MYTH: There is no treatment
for influenza except rest, Tylenol and chicken soup. There are now
three FDA-approved medicines for treating influenza: amantadine, rimantadine,
and zanamir (Relenza™). They will be used more often now that there is a reliable
test to diagnosis influenza.
- MYTH: The flu vaccine
is expensive. Because this is such a contagious threat to the public
heath, many public health departments give the vaccine for free to those at
high risk and at greatly reduced cost ($5-$10) for all others. There are
vaccine days at malls and town halls. Call your local municipality for further
information. In addition, if your physician gives you your vaccine, it is
covered by Medicare, as well as by most insurance carriers for those at increased
- MYTH: I got vaccinated last
year, so I don't need to go again. False. The dominant strains of the
flu are different each year and the vaccine also differs each year.
- MYTH: I've already had
the flu this year. I can't get it again. Not necessarily. You may
have had one strain of the flu and later get the other!
Click here for related information.
Created: 10/17/2000  - Donnica Moore, M.D.
There are now three FDA-approved medicines for treating influenza: amantadine, rimantadine, and zanamir (Relenza™).