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(Toledo News Now) -
It's been said that what you don't know can't hurt you, but that's certainly not the case when it comes to the flu. Every year, millions of people are either uninformed about the flu or buy into long-held myths about it, and end up suffering needlessly.
"This is a pretty busy time around here," said Dr. Dennis Cunningham, a physician in infectious diseases at Nationwide Children's Hospital. "Our emergency departments, urgent care centers and inpatient numbers always go up because of the flu, although many of those patients could avoid getting sick if they'd practice a little prevention."
Cunningham says part of the problem is many people still believe myths about the flu vaccine, and will avoid getting immunized because of them.
Here are four of the most common flu myths:
Myth #1 - The flu is only spread by sneezing.
"Germs are pretty easy to pass around and flu is really contagious," said Cunningham. "It's very easy for one child to give it to another child and the next thing you know, they bring it home."
Because of that, experts say it is important to clean your hands often during flu season, and urge children to do the same.
"The easiest way to do that is to use hand gels, but make sure they have at least 65 to 95 percent alcohol in it," said Cunningham.
Or, if soap and water are nearby, wash your hands often.
"Honestly, the temperature of the water doesn't matter so much as that rinsing motion and getting the soap and virus completely off your hands. We tell our kids to sing their ABCs and wash their hands the entire time. That should be enough to get any virus off the surface of their hands."
Myth #2 - If you do get a vaccine, the spray works better than the shot.
"The fact is both the shot and the nasal spray are effective against the flu, but there are some differences in the two you should be aware of," said Cunningham.
Unlike the shot, the spray actually contains the live flu virus, so those who have chronic conditions, compromised immune systems and women who are pregnant should not use the spray.
Myth #3 - Flu vaccines don't protect you from current strains.
From the H1N1 scare in 2009, to swine flu, to bird flu, each year it seems there's a new strain making headlines. Researchers track the most recent and dangerous strains and work to stay one step ahead.
"The World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pick the strains they think are most likely to circulate in the coming months," explained Cunningham. "Every year there are two A strains that are picked for the vaccine, and one B strain of influenza. So, we're going to be protected against everything that's likely to circulate."
Myth #4 - You can actually catch the flu from the flu vaccine.
"This is probably the most common myth out there, but it simply is not true," said Cunningham. "The vaccine can give you some mild symptoms, you may feel a bit achy and your arm may be a little tender where you get the shot, but that's actually a good thing. It tells you your body is responding appropriately to the vaccine.
Cunningham also warns that a few slight symptoms should not be confused with the actual flu.
"The vaccine can leave you feeling a bit warm or achy for a day or two, but with true influenza, someone is sick and in bed for a week with high fever. It's just not the same," he explained.
It's especially important for children to get the flu vaccine - even in mist form - which works just as well. Since they're around so many people, from peers and teachers to siblings and adults, children are the biggest carriers of the flu. Giving them the vaccine can protect a wide range of people.
"In fact, starting in 1980, Japan required the influenza vaccine for all school-aged children," said Cunningham. "They wound up vaccinating 80 percent of all students through their program and found that the number of flu deaths were four times lower than previous years, especially among the elderly. So, it is very important to get children vaccinated."
Although the flu doesn't seem to be choosy, this season's victims did share common factors: They all were otherwise healthy, young in the scheme of things, and did not get the vaccine.
The behavior of this influenza has medical professionals scratching their heads.
"We don't know the exact science of why, and maybe as this goes on, we'll find out some various things about how this virus is able to attach to lung tissue or attach to proteins. We don't have that now, but we do know what it's doing," explained Grossman.
"It should scare you enough to take care of yourself. But it shouldn't - it's not epidemic fear across the nation. But raise your level of awareness," suggested Grossman.
The flu season usually peaks in January and February, but can last even longer into early spring. That's why if you still haven't gotten a flu vaccine, doctors and pharmacists urge you to do so.
"We've had a lot of people at the beginning of the season. But recently, with everyone having the flu and hearing about the flu, we have seen more people coming in," said Melissa Morrison with Walgreens.
The vaccine is quick and nearly painless. In some cases, your insurance takes care of the bill.
The Toledo-Lucas County Health Department has set up a flu information line at 419-213-4218. Due to the potential high volume of calls, if you do not reach someone, leave a message and a representative will return your call as soon as possible.
We want to help you fight the flu this season. Find everything you need to know, from prevention to a schedule of flu shot clinics, in our Flu Tracker section.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a yearly vaccine to prevent influenza. In addition to the shot, there are other things you can do to aid in the fight against flu.More >>
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a yearly vaccine to prevent influenza. In addition to the shot, there are other things that can be done to aid in the fight against flu. Check out these simple tips to boost your immunity. More >>