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Cold and Flu Myths: Best, Worst Ways to Treat Winter Viruses

Cold and Flu Myths: Best, Worst Ways to Treat Winter Viruses

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By    |   Monday, 06 February 2017 02:37 PM



It’s cold and flu season and everyone has advice about how to dodge an illness — or treat it if you catch something. But a lot of myths persist about how best to treat winter viruses, including remedies handed down for generations that lack any basis in fact.


A prime example of a common misconception: Antibiotics help treat a cold.


“If you have a virus, antibiotics won’t do anything,” says Dr. Rebecca Andrews, associate professor of medicine at UConn Health in Farmington, Conn.


“You can’t treat a virus, but if you have a cold, symptomatic treatment helps. Stay hydrated because that thins the mucus and secretions. One tablespoon of honey will help lessen the severity of a cough, and steam inhalation — like in the shower — or leaning over a bowl of hot water, will help.”


Another myth concerns what many call “stomach flu.” In fact, there is no form of influenza that affects just the gastrointestinal system, and “stomach flu” is often really a viral or bacterial infection — often from contaminated food — and you simply have to tough it out.


The flu, which strikes hundreds of thousands of Americans every year, is more severe than an average cold, includes all-over body aches, nasal congestion, a cough, and it can develop into life-threatening pneumonia.


“After five to six days of a virus, you’re not better, but you’re not getting worse. If you are down and out with the flu, it’s a full seven to 11 days,” Andrews notes.


Although some people avoid getting a flu shot for fear that it might give them the flu, this is another myth. In fact, the vaccine can’t cause influenza because it contains no live virus.


But because the flu vaccine takes up to 10 days to become fully effective, after inoculation, it’s possible get influenza after receiving the shot — but that’s because they’ve been exposed to the virus before the shot’s effectiveness kicked in to offer protection.


“It’s a vaccine, and it activates the immune system. The body can mount a response, you might get a few symptoms, even a low grade fever, but it is very mild,” Andrews explains.
“If someone has already been exposed, it takes about three days to get sick and if you get the vaccine just at the time, you may get sick, but it isn’t caused by the vaccine.”


She adds that it’s wrong to believe that the flu shot can pose a danger to many people.


“There are very few people who I wouldn’t advise to get the flu shot,” Andrews says. “If you have chronic disease and you are exposed to the flu, having had the vaccine can make it much milder.


“The flu can be deadly. Last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the vaccine prevented about five million illnesses. The 71,000 hospitalizations could be reduced. In 2015, 5,000 deaths were reported from the flu, and that averages about 1.5 per 100,000 people who get the flu.”


For those people who feel strongly against getting a flu vaccine, the question is whether or not they are able to stay home from work or school for the entire course of the disease.
And because the flu can be so deadly, and impacts vulnerable people — such as the elderly, infants, and those with chronic illnesses — getting a vaccine protects not only yourself, but those around you.


“The time period when you walk around giving hugs and kisses, you are exposing other people” to the virus, Andrews notes. “We try to vaccinate enough of us to protect each other.”


If you do get sick, what really helps? Experts offer the following advice:


• Take time to recover from an illness and let it run its course.
• One study of people exposed to a cold virus showed that those who got 8 hours of sleep were better able to fight off colds.
• Low-level exercise is OK, but don’t tax your system.
• If you have the flu, an anti-viral called Tamiflu, given early in the course of the disease, might lessen the symptoms.
• Vitamin C taken with the onset of a cold won’t do anything, but if you take Vitamin C daily, it might lessen the severity of the illness.
• Hand washing is critical — viral particles live on things like phones, ATM machines, and it is easy to be exposed to an illness this way.
• Recent research shows that there is a sharp increase in cases of the flu when the temperature decreases significantly, so stay inside and drink fluids.


Feed a cold, starve a fever? Rather than follow this old wives’ tale, Andrews suggests the following:


• Metabolic rates increase with fever, meaning that you deplete the body’s stores more quickly — replenishing calories, fluids, and electrolytes is important for both colds and fevers.
• If you are sick enough that you don’t feel like eating, try to eat some soup or broth.
• There is some truth to the notion that you should have chicken soup; soup and crackers provides you with the salt that helps you to retain fluid and stay hydrated. The warm broth also helps to open sinuses.
• Eating healthy helps — high-sugar or high-fat foods stress the body.
• Make sure to get plenty of fluids. That’s especially true for seniors and very young children who tend to become dehydrated quickly.
 

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It's cold and flu season and everyone has advice about how to dodge an illness - or treat it if you catch something. But a lot of myths persist about how best to treat winter viruses, including remedies handed down for generations that lack any basis in fact. A prime...
colds, flu, myths, treat, winter, viruses
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2017-37-06
Monday, 06 February 2017 02:37 PM
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