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Busting the myths about the flu

Posted at 10:02 PM, Jan 17, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-19 06:33:29-05

This flu season is turning into one of the worst in years.

Two children have already died from the virus in Florida. Right now, the flu is widespread in every single state except for Hawaii and doctors say we have about another three months left in this intense flu season.

Local physicians with American Family Care are being flooded with patients with obvious symptoms but some are not testing positive for the flu. Doctors say it all depends on the test -- a certain amount of antigen, or the substance linked to the virus, is needed to get a positive flu result.

"Even if you have Influenza A or B, the viral load might not be enough to pick it up on a swab to yield a false test, but we do have faith in them," said Dr. Kyle Petersen, with the American Family Care clinic in Loxahatchee Groves. "We're still going to give a person treatment when they have those symptoms."

Health professionals are also setting the record straight on some of the myths and other misunderstandings people are talking about the most when it comes to the flu.

MYTH 1: You can't spread the flu if you do not have any symptoms.

FACT: Yes, you can.

Doctors say 20 to 30 percent of people carry the flu virus and don't even know it because they aren't showing any symptoms.

"You are actually contagious, even sometimes after you've been treated for a period of time and your body has fully taken care of the illness. Having no symptoms doesn't mean you are not a carrier of the flu."

In fact, people infected with the flu can spread it to others up to 6 feet away. When someone with the flu sneezes, coughs or even talks they can spread the virus.

MYTH 2: You can catch the flu from a flu shot. 

FACT: False. 

While vaccine contains components of the virus, the strains of the virus are dead or inactivated making it impossible for you to get sick. 

"Flu shots are proteins from the flu virus that is not even a live virus. The body sees those proteins and amounts the immune system to be primed and ready to go so that if you do encounter the flu in a later point in time, you can fight the infection quicker with fewer symptoms or less severe symptoms," said Dr. Petersen.

So the flu shot simply is a booster that helps your body fight off possible infection.

MYTH 3: Taking antibiotics can help with the flu. 

FACT: Antibiotics do not fight any type of virus.

"Antibiotics are great for bacteria. They don't do anything against viruses and the flu and common cold is a virus. So antibiotics may make you feel better psychologically, but it's not going to do anything against the flu," said Dr. Kyle Petersen of American Family Care.

Dr. Petersen said antiviral drugs like Tamiflu or Relenza can fight the flu virus and make you feel better.

"But they have to be given in a time period of under two days from when a person starts feeling symptoms for the medicine to be most effective," said Dr. Petersen. "We might still use them if it's a severe case, even if it's not within those two days. And the goal of those medications is to shorten or lessen the severity of the symptoms."

Dr. Petersen said recovering from the flu also goes beyond the medications prescribed by your doctor.

"The body needs to take the time to heal and fight the viral infection. Get plenty of rest, maintain your hydration with fluids," he said.

You should stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever breaks.

MYTH 4: Frequent travel exposes you to potential flu germs.  

FACT: Somewhat true

However, a study by the International Transportation Association found in-cabin filters eliminate 99.99% of germs in the air.  

Germs will thrive in almost all small, crowded areas, including a bathroom or train.

Click here to read more about how you can prevent yourself and your family from catching the flu.

Symptoms of the flu include:

  • Fever or feeling feverish/chills 
  • Cough 
  • Sore throat 
  • Runny or stuffy nose 
  • Muscle or body aches 
  • Headaches 
  • Fatigue  
  • Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.