The flu, of which the rate of incidence escalates particularly in association with increasing amounts of time spent indoors between seasons and during winter, is a disease that affects the quality of life significantly. Furthermore, despite being generally confused with the common cold and considered too trivial a reason for consultation with a doctor due to the assumption that its effects are mild and temporary, the flu can actually lead to critical complications in people with chronic diseases, as well as children and the elderly. Therefore, it is essential to take protective measures against the flu and to refer to a doctor on time when the disease occurs. However, old wives’ tales that are very common in today’s society prevent us from putting up sufficient resistance against the flu. Infectious Diseases Specialist Sezen Özkök of Acıbadem Taksim Hospital has shared with us the misconceptions about the flu, as well as making some very important recommendations.
Myth 1: The flu is a simple disease.
Truth: While it is possible to recover from the common cold with mild symptoms without having to take to the bed, the flu progresses with fever and more severe symptoms. Furthermore, it can lead to complications such as bronchitis, sinusitis, ear infections and pneumonia in children, seniors and people with chronic disorders such as lung diseases, and can even be fatal in some cases.
Myth 2: The flu vaccines gives you the flu.
Truth: Contrary to the popular belief, flu vaccines do not cause the flu. Since the vaccines contain inactivated (killed) viruses, there is no risk of developing an infection. On the other hand, the season in which people receive flu shots is also the season in which simple viral infections which are collectively referred to as “the common cold” are encountered very frequently. Therefore, due to symptoms such as a runny nose and weakness, people tend to think they have the flu even when what they have is a simple cold and the blame is put on flu vaccines.
Myth 3: I won’t be able to breastfeed my child if I come down with the flu.
Truth: Most mothers who develop the flu give up on breastfeeding due to the fear that they will pass the disease to their children. Infectious Diseases Specialist Sezen Özkök says, “Contrary to popular belief, mothers should continue to breastfeed their children even when they have the flu”, and explains the reasoning behind it: “Since breast milk contains natural antibodies that ensure protection against the flu, breastfeeding while suffering from the flu provides the baby with natural immunity. On the other hand, it is possible for mothers with a cold or the flu to pass the virus to their children through inhalation or hand contact. Therefore, mothers who get sick should use masks and take care to wash their hands frequently before coming into contact with their children.”
Myth 4: Once I get vaccinated, I will never come down with the flu.
Truth: Flu vaccines do not prevent the illness with a success rate of 100%. The vaccines reduce the risk of developing the disease and ensures for individuals to experience the symptoms more mildly even if they come down with the flu. Each year, the World Health Organization leads an initiative for preparation of vaccines that are expected to cause an epidemic. Therefore, since preexisting vaccines are not effective against other new epidemic viruses that they do not contain, it is possible for even vaccinated people to become sick when they contract these viruses. Stating that a period of 2 to 3 weeks is required for the flu vaccine to be effective after application, Infectious Diseases Specialist Sezen Özkök says, “Since the antibody response is not yet developed before the end of this period, it is possible for individuals to come down with the disease when they contract the virus during the said period. Therefore, it is essential for individuals to get vaccinated in early autumn days, before the epidemics begin”.
Myth 5: I will be safe from the flu if I wear a mask.
Truth: In addition to the droplets suspended in air, the flu can also be contracted via hand contact. Therefore, it is possible to come down with the flu due to handshakes, as well as contact with the items used by sick people, such as phones, computer mice and door handles. This makes it essential for those suffering from the flu to wash their hands frequently during this period.
Myth 6: Staying away from sick people is enough to keep me safe.
Truth: It is also possible to contract the disease from people who have it but are unaware of it due not having developed the symptoms yet. Therefore, simply staying away from sick people is not sufficient; individuals should also get vaccinated and wash their hands frequently.
Myth 7: I don’t need to get vaccinated every year.
Truth: The influenza virus is able to change its structure continuously. Since the World Health Organization develops new vaccination plans that are tailored to high-risk viruses which may lead to epidemics, the contents of vaccines change every year. Therefore, annual vaccination is a must.
Myth 8: It will be too late to receive a flu shot after January.
Truth: Flu vaccines become effective after 2 to 3 weeks. Therefore, individuals are recommended to get vaccinated every year, before the flu epidemics in September and October begin. Stating that the early days of autumn are the best times to get flu shots, Infectious Diseases Specialist Sezen Özkök says, “Notwithstanding this fact, it is never too late to get a flu shot because flu, of which the rate of incidence is highest in February, can be encountered as late as May”.
Myth 9: I can pull through the flu with mild symptoms if I take medication.
Truth: The flu should not be confused with the common cold because it has a much heavier progress than that of colds. For example, people with the flu can have severe muscle pain, head and throat aches, and fever. While people with colds can pull through without having to take to their beds, those with the flu need bedrest.
Myth 10: I can make use of antibiotics if I contract the flu.
Truth: Antibiotics are not effective in treatment of the flu or colds. However, these can be prescribed by a doctor when the diseases is accompanied with complications such as sinusitis, pneumonia and ear infections. The road to recovery from the flu is through increased fluid intake and rest. These can also be supported with antifebrile or antiviral medications prescribed by doctors.