Influenza, more commonly known as the flu, is a respiratory viral illness that can cause sickness and can in some cases lead to death. The flu is very common in the United States in the fall and winter, but many people do not understand it. We would like to clear up some common misconceptions about the flu.
Some people think the flu is like a bad cold, but it is actually much more serious than that. The flu is the eighth leading cause of death in the United States, killing an average of 36,000 Americans every year. Over 200,000 Americans are hospitalized because of the flu each year. Young children, the elderly, and people with conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and asthma are more likely to develop severe cases of the flu. Even in healthy individuals, the flu is much worse than a cold. It can cause a high fever, body aches, a cough, and weakness and can confine a person to bed for several days.
Although no vaccine is 100 percent effective, the flu vaccine is the best way for people to protect themselves. There are several strains of the flu virus every year, so researchers determine which are most likely to cause infection and include those in the vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that the flu vaccine dramatically reduces hospitalizations. One study found that vaccination reduced flu-related hospitalizations by 71 percent, and another found that the vaccine reduced a child’s chance of being admitted to a pediatric intensive care unit with the flu by 74 percent.
Some people do not get vaccinated because they are afraid that will cause them to catch the flu. However, these fears are unfounded. It is impossible to catch the flu by getting a flu vaccine. A vaccine works by exposing the body to a small amount of the flu virus so it will produce antibodies to fight an infection in the future. The flu shot only contains inactivated, or dead, flu viruses, so it cannot cause a person to get the flu. It is also not possible to get the flu from a nasal spray flu vaccine because it contains weakened flu viruses.
Some people eat and drink foods and beverages high in Vitamin C or take supplements in an attempt to avoid the flu. However, there is no evidence that Vitamin C prevents the flu or the common cold.
When people get the flu, they sometimes go to the doctor hoping to get a prescription for antibiotics, but that won’t help. The flu is caused by a virus, but antibiotics only work against bacteria, so they will do nothing to help a person recover from the flu faster. Antiviral medication can be used to treat the flu. It can be taken after exposure to the flu to prevent symptoms, or within the first few days of illness to help a person get better faster.
If you want to reduce your chance of getting the flu, get a vaccine as early as possible every year. Wash your hands often and avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. Avoid sick people if possible. If you come into contact with someone who has the flu, ask your healthcare provider if you should start antiviral medication. Not everyone needs the medication. It is most commonly used by people who are at high risk of developing complications from the flu.