What’s True About the Flu?

By Bramnick, Jeffrey

Take a look at the influenza virus under an electron microscope and you'll see a funny-looking spiked ball, much like the famous Russian satellite Sputnik. But if you've ever been flat on your back with the flu, you know there's nothing funny about this highly contagious virus.

The flu shows up each year about this time, and misconceptions come with it. Test your savvy by marking each statement true or false.

1. Stomach flu is the worst kind of flu.

True

False

2. The CDC recommends that people 50 and older get the flu vaccine each fall or winter.

True

False

3. The flu vaccine can give you the flu.

True

False

4. New medications can help fight the flu.

True

False

5. If you don't touch an infected person, you won't get the flu.

True

False

6. A test is available that can tell your doctor quickly if you have the flu.

True

False

7. The flu causes 5,000 U.S. deaths a year.

True

False

8. Symptoms are worse for the flu than a cold.

True

False

The answers

1. False. There is no such thing as stomach flu; flu is a respiratory illness, according to the CDC. Many people use the word "flu" for any infectious illness they get. In reality, flu is a specific type of infection, caused each year by ever-changing, ever-adapting strains of the influenza virus.

2. False. CDC recommendations as of February 2010 were that all individuals over age 60 should get a flu vaccine for the 2010-2011 flu season.

3. False. You cannot get the flu from a flu shot. The vaccine contains dead virus, explains the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. 

4. True. The antiviral medications oseltamivir and zanamivir fight flu if used within 48 hours after symptoms appear. Given within 36 hours of the first symptoms, these drugs can cut the duration of illness 30 percent and the severity of illness 40 percent. The CDC warns, however, that you shouldn't consider these drugs an alternative to vaccination: Few flu victims visit the doctor in time for the drugs to help. 

5. False. You most often catch the flu by coming in contact with droplets of an infected person's cough or sneeze, the CDC says. Avoiding people you know are infected will cut your risk, as will frequent hand-washing. But by far, experts say, your best protection is the vaccine. 

6. True. The Rapid Test takes about 30 minutes to an hour to show a result  The older viral culture takes two to 10 days, past the time necessary for newer antiviral drugs to offer relief.

7. False. About 36,000 Americans die each year after becoming infected with the flu, according to the CDC. Nine out of 10 are older adults who develop complications such as pneumonia after they are severely weakened by flu. Vaccination prevents about 60 percent of the severe complications and 80 percent of the deaths from flu in older adults.

8. True. The flu has more severe symptoms, with a fever, a non-productive cough, muscle ache, headache and fatigue. Generally, you feel like you've been run over by a truck. Most colds don't include fever or severe headache, muscle aches are milder, and fatigue and weakness from a cold are far less severe than from flu.

Medical Reviewer: [Cineas, Sybil MD, Daphne Pierce-Smith, RN, MSN, FNP, CCRC, Godsey, Cynthia M.S., M.S.N., APRN, Lambert, J.G. M.D., Lee Jenkins, O'Brien, Chris RN, MPH, Rosalyn Carson-DeWitt, MD] Last Annual Review Date: 2010-02-11T00:00:00-07:00 Copyright: Copyright Health Ink & Vitality Communications


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