Flu myths: Know your bug

The latest flu epidemic has many people in a near-panic. But it's important to know the difference between fact and fiction when it comes to fighting the influenza virus.

"This is one of the worst flu seasons we've seen in Illinois in about a decade," said Nathan Limb, pharmacy supervisor for Walgreens Chicago (central district).

Limb said it's important to be proactive, rather than reactive, when fighting the flu virus.

"Flu shots and Tamiflu (anti-viral medication) are flying off the shelves," Limb said. "But the flu shot doesn't work right away. It takes about two weeks to boost the immune system once you're received the flu shot."

While cold medications, sanitizers, disinfecting wipes and vitamin C are in their usual demand for this time of year, Limb said he's seeing an increase in the number of toothbrushes being sold this flu season.

"If a virus is going around the house, you've got to throw out your old toothbrushes so you aren't spreading the germs," Limb said.

Dr. David Beckman, family medicine physician at MetroSouth Medical Center in Blue Island, said there are many myths associated with the flu that need to be addressed when tackling cold and flu season.

"Not many people realize that there is usually a two-day incubation period," Beckman said. "So someone can have the flu, yet they don't have any symptoms. Then a day before their symptoms surface, they start shedding that virus and then they become contagious for about four to five days afterward."

Here are some other common flu myths, according to Beckman:

Antibiotics can cure the flu.

"This flu is a virus that an antibiotic cannot treat," Beckman said. "There are anti-viral medications — the main one is Tamiflu — and if they're given within 48 hours, it can treat some of the severe symptoms. But the guidelines from the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) don't recommend that everyone who has the flu get the anti-viral treatment — only high risk groups such as the elderly, babies and pregnant women."

You can catch the flu by going out in the cold with wet hair or without a coat.

"Being outside if you're not bundled up doesn't give someone the flu," Beckman said. "While it's not smart to catch a chill, it won't give you influenza. You have to be exposed to the virus."

If you're feeling symptoms, getting the flu shot will stop the flu from becoming severe.

"If you are truly starting to have the symptoms of the flu, the vaccination won't prevent you from developing the flu," Beckman said. "But if you're getting a little cold, a runny nose and stuffiness, then potentially you could still get the vaccination and be protected from the flu."

You know it's the flu if you're vomiting or have an upset stomach.

"A lot of people refer to the flu as a gastrointestinal bug but that's not what this whole outbreak is about," Beckman said. "It's also possible that you can have the flu and not have a fever. But the classic and most common symptoms of the flu are fever, body aches, chills, upper respiratory congestion and cough."

The flu shot gives you the flu.

"The flu vaccine is an inactivated virus, so there's no way that vaccination can actually cause the flu," Beckman said. "What some people may experience is some of the aftereffects of the shot and usually that's just for 24 to 48 hours, but if you have the full-blown flu, that generally lasts anywhere from five to 10 days."

jweigel@tribune.com

Twitter: @jenweigel

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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