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Entries in Flu (47)

Wednesday
Jan092013

Hospitals Flooded with Flu Patients, Turn Others Away

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- U.S. emergency rooms have been overwhelmed with flu patients, turning away some of them and others with non-life-threatening conditions for lack of space.

Forty-one states are battling widespread influenza outbreaks, including Illinois, where six people -- all older than 50 -- have died, according to the state's Department of Public Health.

At least 18 children in the country have died during this flu season, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The proportion of people seeing their doctor for flu-like symptoms jumped to 5.6 percent from 2.8 percent in the past month, according to the CDC.

Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago reported a 20 percent increase in flu patients every day.  Northwestern Memorial was one of eight hospitals on bypass Monday and Tuesday, meaning it asked ambulances to take patients elsewhere if they could do so safely.

Most of the hospitals have resumed normal operations, but could return to the bypass status if the influx of patients becomes too great.

"Northwestern Memorial Hospital is an extraordinarily busy hospital, and oftentimes during our busier months, in the summer, we will sometimes have to go on bypass," Northwestern Memorial's Dr. David Zich said.  "We don't like it, the community doesn't like it, but sometimes it is necessary."

A tent outside Lehigh Valley Hospital in Salisbury Township, Pa., was set up to tend to the overflowing number of flu cases.

A hospital in Ohio is requiring patients with the flu to wear masks to protect those who are not infected.

State health officials in Indiana have reported seven deaths.  Five of the deaths occurred in people older than 65 and two younger than 18.  The state will release another report later on Wednesday.

Doctors are especially concerned about the elderly and children, where the flu can be deadly.

"Our office in the last two weeks has exploded with children," Dr. Gayle Smith, a pediatrician in Richmond, Va., said

It is the earliest flu season in a decade and, ABC News Chief Medical Editor Dr. Besser says, it's not too late to protect yourself from the outbreak.

"You have to think about an anti-viral, especially if you're elderly, a young child, a pregnant woman," Besser said.  "They're the people that are going to die from this.  Tens of thousands of people die in a bad flu season.  We're not taking it serious enough."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Jan092013

New Facebook App Tracks Who Gave You the Flu

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Sure you have tons of Facebook friends, but which ones are contagious?

A new app called Help, I Have the Flu scans your friends' status updates for words like "sniffles," "coughing," and, naturally, "flu" to see which of your pals may have passed along that gift that keeps on giving: the influenza virus.

The app leaves any requisite revenge plotting up to you, offering once you track down your particular Patient Zero, the choice "to have them quarantined or if you're particularly forgiving, send some help."

If you don't have the flu, the app's still useful, suggesting which friends to avoid IRL -- in real life -- until cold and flu season's over.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Jan082013

Early Flu Season Hits Hard

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The flu is back and with a vengeance.

Hitting the U.S. unusually early and hard this year, the flu season has officially arrived and it won’t be departing anytime soon. Those who have a healthy appreciation for the often-underestimated and crippling powers of the flu usually will take every precaution to avoid it.  If not, it’s never too soon to get prepared and not too late to get vaccinated against one of the most notorious and common winter maladies.

If you’re young and healthy, the flu may just make you feel lousy for a week or two, miss some work, and spread the infection to some of your favorite people. If you’re elderly, have medical problems, are pregnant, or are a young child, you may not be so lucky. More than 200,000 people are hospitalized due to influenza each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and depending on the year, between 3,000 and 49,000 people die.

The best way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated.

You may have heard about a new study on flu vaccines. It found that the flu vaccine doesn’t work as well as we thought or would like. However, it still offers considerable protection. In adults ages 18-65 the benefits of the flu shot vary year by year, but on average the vaccine is 59-percent protective. For children the story is better. For those younger than seven the nasal spray vaccine is 83-percent protective.

Unfortunately, the vaccine works least well in the elderly, the group at greatest risk of severe infection. They should still get vaccinated, but remember that when they do, it helps to keep them safe too. Clearly, we need better vaccines, but it’s still a really good idea to get vaccinated. There is also good news for kids — the nasal spray vaccine works great and there is no needle!

There are a couple of myths to bust:

  1. Can the flu shot give me the flu? No. You may have a sore arm or a little fever but the shot does not contain a live virus and cannot give you the flu.
  2. If I got the flu shot last year, do I need it this year? Yes!  It isn’t clear how long protection lasts and most years the vaccine protects against different strains of flu than the year before.

How do you know if you have the flu or just a bad cold? Flu symptoms usually come on suddenly and frequently and include high fever, headache, fatigue, cough, sore throat, and body aches. Some people, particularly children, may have diarrhea and vomiting. If you have these symptoms, do not come to work. The last thing you really want to do is infect others.

Finally, here is some advice for what to do if you get the flu:

  • If you have underlying medical problems, call your doctor early in the illness to see if they want to prescribe an antiviral drug.
  • Stay home until your fever has been gone for at least 24 hours. That will cut down on the number of people to whom you might give it.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes.
  • Keep your hands clean — use soap and water or hand sanitizer frequently, especially after coughing or sneezing.
  • Drink plenty of liquids!

The biggest advice to you is this: The best approach to the flu is to not get it and not share it. Get vaccinated.  Stay home if you’re sick.

For more information on the flu visit http://www.cdc.gov/flu.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Monday
Jan072013

Flu Outbreak: Fighting the Virus with Social Media

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The flu season has arrived — and it’s weeks early.

In one week, 16 states and New York City reported high levels of the flu. By the following week, that number was up to 29.

Each day for the past week, more than 500 New Yorkers have descended on emergency rooms with flu symptoms, according to a city website.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in high-flu states 70 percent to 80 percent of the coughs you hear around you right now stem from the flu.

Each cough, sneeze or even conversation puts the virus into the air — and potentially into your lungs.

The virus goes everywhere — onto railings and the salt shakers in the diner; on the keys of the ATM; and on every door anyone touches.

The flu virus can survive two to eight hours on hard surfaces such as metal and plastic — touch it and you can spread it to your nose and mouth from your hand.

The average person touches his or her face about 18 times an hour — giving the virus a path to the lungs.

In one meeting, ABC News recorded the number of times people unconsciously touched their faces in more than 25 minutes. The highest number of times: 44.

There are now new tools to track the flu.

The CDC is watching social media flu sites such as Google Flu Tracker, and a Facebook app tries to identify the “friend” that gave you the flu from its searches and comments.

Flunearyou.com has 20,000 volunteers who are tracking their symptoms, narrowing the spread of flu down to your ZIP code.

An office hot spot?  The elevator. One sneeze can spray the flu — in droplets — up to 20 feet, coating the doors and buttons.  And what do you touch in an elevator?  The buttons.

The CDC suggests washing your hands and getting a flu shot — still available and effective within two weeks.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Jan032013

Hard-Hitting Flu Strain Strikes Early, Health Officials Warn

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- This year's flu season is now in full swing and IS expected to get worse. The flu season typically hits hardest in January and February, but can last until May. With many returning home after holiday travels, the flu is able to spread quickly.

Widespread flu activity is now being reported in much of the country, including the East Coast and in the West in Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Texas and Alaska.  

In Washington state, Tim McDonald with the Snohomish County Health District says they have already seen an increase in flu cases.

"We are having an early influenza season.  And it's a serious influenza season and we've had a definite uptick in hospitalizations," says McDonald.

But why would this flu season be spreading so quickly, so soon? Health experts are exploring the possibilities for a cause of this fast-spreading flu.  Is this a new flu? One that isn't in this year's vaccine? One to which we're not all immune?

Health officials say the problem is that many cases are coming from a strain of influenza -- called subtype B -- which was not included in this year's vaccine.

"It's a new strain that is not absolutely new, but a little bit new to our population," McDonald says.

Dr. Richard Besser, ABC's chief health and medical editor, says that often people are infectious long before they know it, spreading the virus even further.

"There hasn't been an outbreak this early for 10 years, and that year the flu season was severe.  We know that with just one sneeze, the virus can spread almost 20 feet in just seconds.  You're infectious a full day before you show any symptoms; a bad mix," he says.

The fast-spreading nature of this flu has health workers scrambling. McDonald advises that anyone over six months of age is recommended to get a flu shot. A shot helps stop the spread as well as immunize each patient.

"I would urge everyone, not just for themselves, but for their friends, neighbors and relatives and their children, to get vaccinated right away," he says.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Monday
Dec102012

There's Still Time to Get a Flu Shot

Jeffrey Hamilton/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- It’s official: flu season is here.  But experts say it’s not too late to get a flu shot -- your best protection against winter’s wiliest virus.

“This year’s vaccine appears to be right on target with the circulating virus,” said Dr. William Schaffner, chair of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn.  “Treat it as a holiday gift to yourself and everyone around you.  Don’t be a Grinch by spreading the flu.”

Flu season arrived early this year, and according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it could be a doozy.

“We’re seeing the beginning of the uptick start at least a month before we’d generally see it,” said CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden.  “It looks like it’s shaping up to be a bad flu season.”

Holiday parties and crowded cross-country travel give the flu an easy ticket to spread, according to Schaffner.

“There are a lot of interactions within your breathing zone,” he said, referring to the three-foot radius around your mouth.  “Those are all ideal circumstances for viral transmission.”

While “avoiding coughers and sneezers” can help reduce your risk, flu symptoms can take days to appear.  That means seemingly healthy friends and coworkers could be unwittingly exposing you to the flu.

“It‘s not too late to get a flu shot,” said Schaffner, who warned that flu season will likely extend through February or March.  “Please don’t doddle.  Don’t leave it to the last minute like a late Christmas eve shopping trip.”

If you do come down with flu symptoms, stay home and rest, Schaffner said.

“Don’t go to holiday parties, don’t go to work,” he said.  “You’ll only expose all your friends, relatives and coworkers.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Nov292012

WHO Says Pregnant Women Need Flu Vaccine Most

Jeffrey Hamilton/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- This flu season, the World Health Organization says pregnant women should be given top priority for flu vaccinations, putting them above the elderly, children and people with chronic health conditions.

Pregnant women are considered especially vulnerable to the flu because their immune systems are slightly depressed to accommodate the growing fetus, doctors say.  The mother's body does this so her immune won't attack the unborn baby, which includes foreign DNA.

"They're not more likely to get it, but if they get it, they're more likely to have severe morbidity or actually die from it," said Dr. Jon Abramson, a pediatrician at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina.

When the immune system is down, the mother's body can't fight the flu off as easily, Abramson said.  It can then escalate and result in pneumonia and other health problems.  Even if the flu doesn't result in hospitalization, the baby is more likely to have a low birth weight or be born premature, especially if the mother gets the flu in the third trimester.

Although doctors have recommended the flu vaccine to pregnant women for decades, the 2009 pandemic got people's attention.  According to a WHO report, pregnant women in New York City were 7.2 times more likely to be hospitalized for influenza than non-pregnant women during the 2009 swine flu pandemic.

Lori Wolfe, who directs the Texas Teratogen Information Service Pregnancy Risk Line, said more women call her because they are afraid of getting the flu shot, not the flu.  Since 2009, Wolfe and her colleagues have made it a practice to always recommend the flu shot to callers.

"When women are pregnant, there's some concern about anything entering their system.  The thought of having to get a vaccination alone is scary to a lot of them," Wolfe said, adding that they usually understand why it's important to get one after the teratologist explains flu risks to them.

Abramson said there's no way to get the flu from a flu shot (not the nasal spray) because the virus inside the shot is dead.  Even once the baby is born, the mother's flu antibodies are passed to the baby through the placenta and protect him or her for up to six months.  By then, the baby can get a flu shot, too.

Wolfe said a woman can get a flu vaccine at any time during her pregnancy.  Other than the risk of miscarriage or premature birth if the mother is severely sick, a fever above 102 degrees presents the biggest developmental hazards to the fetus.

A Danish study published earlier this month also found a correlation between the flu during pregnancy and autism, reinforcing experts recommendations that all pregnant women should be vaccinated.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
Nov262012

Beyond the Flu Shot: Five Tips to Boost Your Immunity

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- With flu season upon us, there's never been a better time to get the flu shot and take some other easy steps to boost your immunity.

Flu kills as many as 49,000 Americans every year and leaves more than 200,000 hospitalized with complications like pneumonia, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Most vulnerable are the elderly or chronically ill, whose immune systems have been worn down, and infants, whose immune systems haven't yet been built up.

Seasonal influenza viruses may change their genetic structure from year to year, but the basic strategy for surviving them doesn't, starting with the flu vaccine that U.S. health officials recommend for everyone older than 6 months.  From there, though, flu avoidance involves committing to a range of mostly simple steps.

The Sunny Solution

Emerging science about the disease-defeating effects of vitamin D, which we obtain either from sunshine or supplements, suggests that it can create a protective internal barrier between our cells and flu viruses.  Most of the evidence remains suggestive, based on what happens in test-tubes or animals.  However, a study of Japanese school children published last year has given vitamin D advocates something concrete to hang onto.  Researchers divided 334 children into two groups, giving half daily pills containing 1,200 international units of vitamin D and the other half dummy pills.  Among the 167 given real vitamin D, 18 (10.8 percent) caught the flu, compared with 31 (18.6 percent) of the 167 who got placebos, according to the study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Hand Hygiene

Never underestimate the power of old-fashioned soap and warm water to rinse away flu viruses from hands that have touched a myriad of potentially germy surfaces every day.  If you can't find a sink, reach for an alcohol-based hand sanitizers, advises Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt, University in Tennessee.  With seasonal flu as well as a few cases of novel swine flu floating around this year, avoid touching your hands to your eyes, nose or mouth, which can deliver those viruses straight into your system.

Keep Your Immune System Tuned Up

Sufficient sleep, regular exercise and eating healthfully can keep your immune system in good working order and ready to stand up to flu.  Research continues to suggest that keeping a lid on stress is essential for a healthy immune system.  That's because chronic stress triggers excess production of cortisol, a hormone that suppresses important infection-fighting cells.  Consider setting aside 30 minutes each day to listen to soothing, environmental music, which ups the production of immunoglobulin A (IgA) proteins, according to a study that found listening to a half-hour of relaxing music boosted IgA levels in study subjects' saliva.

Regular, "moderately frequent" sex also raises IgA levels, according to researchers who found that sex two to three times a week made for higher IgA levels than either abstinence or more frequent sex.  IgA proteins cling to infection-causing microbes and recruit immune cells to battle them.  Massage and therapeutic touch also reduce cortisol levels while increasing the population of natural killer cells and infection-fighting white blood cells, according to a 2004 study from the Touch Institutes at the University of Miami School of Medicine.

Ease Up On Nose-blowing

Blowing your nose hard increases pressure in your sinuses, forcing germ-laden mucus further into your nasal passages, according to University of Virginia researchers who used CT scans to track what happened when study subjects blew their noses, sneezed and coughed.  Driving viruses deeper into your sinuses can prolong your misery, Schaffner says.  Consider loosening nasal secretions with a hot, steamy shower, then you can blow your nose with less risk.

The Last Resort: Antiviral Drugs


If all else has failed and you feel the flu coming on, call your doctor and ask about a prescription for one of the antiviral drugs, such as oseltamivir (Tamiflu) or zanamivir (Relenza).  These can "lessen symptoms and shorten the time you are sick by 1 or 2 days," according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  "For people with a high-risk medical condition, treatment with an antiviral drug can mean the difference between having a milder illness versus a very serious illness that could result in a hospital stay."  Of course, you might want to keep in mind that in rare cases, these medications can make you feel as bad as the flu itself, producing such unpleasant side effects as nausea, vomiting, dizziness, diarrhea, headache or mood changes.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Nov212012

Tips for Staying Healthy During Holiday Travel

Medioimages/Photodisc(NEW YORK) -- Millions of people will hit the roads, rails and sky this holiday season, and tagging along with them will be hordes of germs ready to spread to the traveling masses.

Despite being surrounded by bacteria and viruses in stores, airports and other public places, there are a few simple ways to minimize the risk of catching a cold or the flu, which could zap the happy out of the holidays.

"You don't want to be a hermit, and you want to enjoy the holidays, but try to use some common sense principles to avoid getting sick," said Dr. Lisa Bernstein, associate professor of medicine at Emory University School of Medicine.

In an effort to help spread healthy holiday cheer, Bernstein and other doctors share the following tips for fending off germs while traveling:

Wash Your Hands

It's the number one rule that experts repeat over and over again: Wash your hands.

"You're constantly touching surfaces that people have sneezed and coughed on, and then because you're in a crowded airport or on a plane you may get hot or sweaty, you wipe your eyes, nose or mouth and can spread germs," said Dr. Michael Perskin, assistant professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center.

Soap and water aren't always available, so alcohol-based hand sanitizers are essential travel items.

"Liberal and frequent use of alcohol hand rubs is very important," said Dr. Laurence Gardner, professor of medicine and executive dean for clinical affairs at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.  "If I were really concerned about acquiring a cold or a respiratory infection, I would apply that to my hands every 30 minutes or when I used the bathroom or touched any other surface."

Be Vigilant on Planes

Airplanes are notoriously germy places.  Studies have shown that airplane bathrooms harbor a number of different types of bacteria and viruses, and the recirculated air in planes can also contain many infectious agents.  Germs also lurk on tray tables and on seats and seat backs.

"If you're in a plane, wipe down seats, seat backs and tray tables," said Bernstein.  Travelers should also, as always, wash their hands whenever possible.

Eat Right and Exercise

Proper nutrition and physical activity are important all year round, but especially during the holidays.  People may neglect these needs because of bad weather or other obligations, but they are vital to staying healthy.

"Eat a healthy diet and exercise -- those are the best preventive activities along with not smoking," said Perskin.  "Your immune system will be healthier and that will help fight off infection."

Get a Flu Shot

"Even though it's December, it's not too late to get a flu shot.  Flu season goes through early spring," said Bernstein.

"This is the prime time for influenza," said Gardner.  "When peole are in enclosed spaces in cold environments, the passage of viruses -- especially the flu virus -- is much greater than in wide open spaces in the summer."

Perskin also suggests getting vaccinated against other diseases, such as whooping cough, or pertussis.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Nov202012

12 Flu Myths Debunked

Pixland/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Influenza, the dreaded cold-weather virus, was once believed to be brought on by the influence of the stars. Although that particular flu myth has been dispelled, doctors still battle other myths about the flu and its vaccine each season.

"Flu myth busting is the most difficult thing I do," said Dr. Len Horovitz, pulmonary specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

From how you get the flu to how you fight it off to concerns over the safety of the seasonal flu vaccine, there's a lot of misinformation out there that may leave people underprotected for flu season, experts say.

ABC News asked experts to set the record straight on 12 hard-to-shake flu myths.

Flu Fact and Fiction

'The flu vaccine can give me the flu.'

Verdict: False. Despite the continual urging by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that all Americans over the age of 6 months should be vaccinated against the seasonal flu, less than 50 percent of eligible people in the U.S. got vaccinated in 2011, according to CDC data. Much of this lag in vaccination rates stems from lingering fears over the safety of the vaccine.

This fear began in 1979, when live-virus vaccines were used and people did get sick from them, said Horovitz. "That was the start of people deciding they weren't going to get a flu shot," he added.

But today, injectable flu vaccine uses dead virus and "is made up of only parts of the flu virus, so it cannot in any way give you the flu," said Dr. William Schaffner, chair of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn.

While the nasal spray variety of the vaccine uses a live, weakened virus, it can only multiply in the colder environment of the nose and can't give you the actual, full-blown flu. Sometimes people have a sore throat and runny nose for a day, but not the actual flu, Schaffner said.

One reason that this myth persists is that flu vaccine causes a brief fever in about one percent of recipients, which leads some to worry that they are actually getting the flu after getting the vaccine. But "these are very transient and rare reactions," said Schaffner, and do not indicate that the patient has the flu.

Another issue is that it can take several weeks for the vaccine to cause the buildup of enough antibodies in the body to become effective, "so it is quite possible to get the flu soon after getting vaccinated, which could lead to this misunderstanding," said John Barry, author of "The Great Influenza."

Flu Fact and Fiction

'The flu vaccine is dangerous, especially for pregnant women.'


Verdict: False.
The flu vaccine is given in the hundreds of millions of doses every year and is "extraordinarily safe," Schaffner says. Other doctors echo this sentiment -- that the flu itself is the threat, not the vaccine.

There are very rare risks associated with any vaccine, said Dr. Christian Sandrock, a physician and an expert in infectious disease at the University of California Davis Medical Center, but it's about weighing the benefits of vaccine against the risk.

"What is far more dangerous is taking the risk that you will get infected with flu if not vaccinated," said David Topham, co-director of the New York Influenza Center of Excellence. "Flu infection kills almost 40,000 people each year in the U.S. alone. Flu vaccine does not kill anyone."

Fears about the use of the flu vaccine by pregnant women stem from generations past, when women were advised against getting any vaccine while pregnant, said Dr. Greg Poland, director of the Vaccine Research Group at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

"This was because the vaccines a generation ago were live virus vaccines. Today, the injectable vaccine is just pieces of protein and there is no risk of getting the flu from it," he said. The nasal vaccine, which does contain live virus, however, is not recommended for pregnant women.

Getting the flu, and the high fever that accompanies it, is much more of a concern for pregnant women, Poland says, because high fever in the early stages of pregnancy can lead to certain neurologic brain defects in the baby. Hence, preventing flu infection with vaccination and getting early treatment is of the utmost importance for pregnant women.

Flu Fact and Fiction

'Young, healthy people don't need to be vaccinated because the flu is only dangerous for infants and the elderly.'

Verdict: False. Considering that those who are young and healthy generally fend off flu better than younger children, senior citizens and those with compromised immune systems, many believe that it's not that important for those at low risk of suffering flu complications to get vaccinated. But this couldn't be farther from the truth, according to Schaffner.

"The flu is a viral disease that can put you in bed and into the hospital very quickly, even in young, healthy people. Even if the flu only does this to one out of every 300 young healthy people, we can't pick those people out in advance, so we want to protect everyone," he said,

More importantly, widespread vaccination is critical to protect, not just you, but the people around you.

"Vaccines have two functions: they protect the person who is vaccinated, but also everyone around that person -- because the person will not spread the flu," Schaffner said. "And someone around that young, healthy person may have diabetes, or be elderly, or be a small infant, and you want to protect these people from getting sick."

Flu Fact and Fiction

'Getting the flu vaccine will completely protect me from getting the seasonal flu.'


Verdict: Not quite. The flu vaccine is only about 59 percent effective at warding off flu, according to a 2011 review published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases. Nevertheless, experts say the flu shot is still the best defense against the virus.

"While we hope and wait for a perfect vaccine, we've got a good one that's capable of preventing influenza and its complication," said Schaffner. "It can't prevent every instance, but it can prevent many. And that's a good thing."

Because the vaccine has its limitations, other methods of flu prevention such as hand washing and staying away from those who are sick are still very important. Regular exercise, getting plenty of sleep, and cleaning commonly-used surfaces at home frequently are also good ways to stop the flu in its tracks.

Flu Fact and Fiction

'If I already got the flu this year, I shouldn't bother getting vaccinated because I can't get it again.'

Verdict: Not quite. Often, there is a misconception that there is just one influenza strain that circulates in any given season. If this were the case, then getting the flu once would provide your body with the antibodies necessary to fight off that flu and prevent you from coming down with the flu again that season.

"If only this were the case," said Schaffner. Instead, there are hundreds of different types of flu viruses that circulate at any given time, so if you get the flu once, you only have protection from that specific type of flu.

In terms of vaccination, this means that just because you got the flu already, this doesn't meant that you should still get the vaccine. You are still susceptible to other types of flu and the vaccine offers the best, although not full-proof, protection against getting these other strains, Schaffner said.

Flu Fact and Fiction


'I got vaccinated last year, so I don't need to get the vaccine this year.'


Verdict: Definitely false. Again, there are hundreds of different strains of flu virus, and these strains change constantly. Every year, the vaccine is made by selecting the three most common types of virus that are currently circulating.

"That's why we need a new vaccine every year," said Schaffner.

For the same reason that getting the flu in November won't protect you from getting another strain in December, getting the vaccine for the strains of flu circulating in 2010 will not necessarily protect you from the types that will be circulating in 2011.

Scientists are working toward a stronger, more universal vaccine that could be a one-shot deal -- with the occasional booster.

Flu Fact and Fiction

'If I haven't gotten vaccinated by Christmas, there's no point.'


Verdict: False. While it's better to get the vaccination before the flu season peaks, that doesn't mean it's too late to protect yourself by vaccinating in January or February or even March.

"Flu peaks in February and early March, so there's still time to get vaccinated," said Schaffner, "but that's why I say jog, don't walk, to the drug store to get vaccinated today."

Flu Fact and Fiction


'Catching a chill by sitting near drafty window or going out in cold weather will make me get the flu.'

Verdict: Mostly false. Getting severely chilled to the point of hypothermia can make the immune system less resilient, which may make someone more susceptible to flu, doctors say, but you still have to come into contact with the flu to get the flu -- and getting a chill, in and of itself, is not going to do it.

Also, your standard amount of "chill" from a drafty window or going out with wet hair is not going to be enough to predispose you to illness, Schaffner said.

Flu Fact and Fiction

'Taking vitamin C or echinacea will prevent flu.'


Verdict: The data suggest false. Despite speculation that taking large doses of vitamin C or echinacea will protect people from flu, the data just aren't there to support them as flu-fighters, Schaffner said. There's some mixed evidence that these supplements will help fight off a cold, but when it comes to flu, these methods "strike out," he said.

Flu Fact and Fiction

'Taking antibiotics will fight the flu.'

Verdict: False. While antibiotics are sometimes used to control infection such as pneumonia that can accompany serious bouts of flu, antibiotics cannot treat viral infections like the flu.

Antiviral mediation such as Tamiflu and Relenza can fight off the flu virus, but even these can only shorten the duration of the illness, not resolve it altogether, Horovitz said.

Flu Fact and Fiction


'I should starve a fever, feed a cold.'

Verdict: False. This old adage may sound nice, but there is "no science to prove that it works," said Dr. Peter Katona, an infectious disease specialist at UCLA Medical Center. "You don't starve a flu, you need food and liquids for both [flu and cold]."

"Keeping up fluids is most important," Schaffner added, "and if you're hungry, keep it to simple foods to go easy on your tummy. This is not the time to get spicy Szechuan chicken."

Flu Fact and Fiction

'The flu is a normal illness, so I should just stay at home and ride it out.'


Verdict: Not necessarily. For most people who get the flu, staying at home and getting rest and plenty of fluids will be enough for their bodies to fight it off. But if your fever doesn't go away or your symptoms become severe, seek medical attention, said Schaffner. It doesn't matter how young and healthy you were a few days ago. Flu complications can become serious and antiviral medications or hospitalization may be needed.

Seeking immediate medical attention is especially important if you develop a headache and severe stiffness in your neck as this might be a sign of bacterial meningitis, not the flu.

Bacterial meningitis starts out with flu-like symptoms such as fever and achiness, but quickly the patient will become seriously ill, will be so stiff as to be unable to put his/her chin to the chest, and will be difficult to rouse from sleep, Schaffner said.

Bacterial meningitis can lead to brain damage, coma, and death when left untreated so any of these symptoms should not be ignored.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio