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Five Flu Fallacies

February 13, 2018

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Think you know how to prevent the flu? Understanding some basic flu facts is the key to protecting ourselves and others from infection.

Here are five common flu misconceptions:

1. The flu vaccine will give me the flu.

Not if you get the shot. Dr. Ana Velez, Moffitt Infectious Disease specialist, points out that there is no live flu virus in the flu shot. The injected vaccine cannot cause the flu. And for the second year in a row, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is recommending against the use of nasal spray vaccines that contain a weakened form of the flu virus because of their limited effectiveness. Remember, other nonflu viruses are currently out there causing colds with flulike symptoms. And unfortunately, we don’t have vaccines for those viruses.

2. This year’s flu shot isn’t effective, and it’s too late to get it anyway.

Effectiveness varies from year to year. The CDC estimates this year’s vaccine is effective against 10 to 30 percent of the season’s most common flu virus. That’s better than zero protection without the shot. Even if you get the shot and still manage to catch the flu, it’s likely your bout won’t be as severe or last as long as someone who didn’t get vaccinated. And it’s not too late. Flu season can last until May. Get the shot now and you’ll have some level of protection in about two weeks.

3. I’m contagious only if I have symptoms like fever, sneezing or coughing. 

According to the CDC, some otherwise healthy adults may be able to spread the flu a full day before symptoms develop. They can remain contagious for five to seven days after becoming sick. Young children or people of any age with weakened immune systems who catch the flu can shed the virus even longer.

4. Hand sanitizer is just as good as washing your hands with soap and water.

According to Moffitt Clinical Specialist Cassandra Vonnes, soap and water are always the best option. Hand sanitizer is a suitable substitute for on-the-go cleaning. Do not use hand sanitizer when your hands are visibly dirty, and make sure to use an alcohol-based sanitizer.

5. I had the flu, so at least I won’t have to deal with it again this season.

Unfortunately, because there are multiple strains of flu virus circulating, you can catch the flu more than once in a season. Fighting off one strain won’t necessarily protect you against others. That’s another reason the flu vaccine, made to protect against four flu strains, is your best bet for better health.