Everytime you pick up a cold or flu, you can guarantee that everyone you meet will have some handy advice.
Out of all these many stories connected with both colds and flu, who gets it, how we get it, what we should or shouldn't do to avoid it, and so on – it can be difficult to separate fact from fiction. But let's take a look at some of the most often repeated myths about colds and flu, to see exactly what's true, and what is not!
1. Having flu is like having a heavy cold
FALSE: While it's true that cold and flu symptoms, like coughing, a blocked nose or headaches, can seem the same, or at least be very similar, they are two very different illnesses. Some cold and flu remedies are suitable for both conditions because they offer the same symptom relief, regardless of whether it's a cold or flu. Generally speaking however, flu symptoms tend to be more severe and last longer. Flu is caused by different viruses than those which cause colds, which is why there are unique symptoms such as a sudden rise in body temperature, which is not normally seen with a cold. Flu also comes with a risk of complications that could make it far more serious, particularly with the very young and the elderly.
2. Flu can be treated with antibiotics
FALSE: Antibiotics have no effect on the viruses that cause a cold or those that cause flu. Antivirals, however, have been shown to have some effect. They may relieve some of the symptoms of flu, reduce the potential for serious complications and can have some impact on shortening the length of time that you are ill.
3. Fit and healthy people don't get colds or flu
FALSE: Anyone, young or old, fit or otherwise, can be infected with a cold or a flu virus. Similarly, we are all capable of passing on the virus. But what is true is that those of us with certain conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease, may be at risk of developing complications if infected with the flu virus. So, if you find yourself coming down with a cold or flu, you should always take every precaution not to pass it on to anyone by coughing and sneezing into tissues, and disposing of them quickly.
4. You will catch a cold or flu if you get cold or wet
FALSE: Being cold can't simply result in you "catching a cold" as if it had appeared from nowhere, but if your body gets cold and wet, it can create the right conditions for a dormant cold or flu virus (one that is already in your body) to become active. In this situation, the virus could then start to multiply, which could lead to cold or flu symptoms. So, wrapping in warm clothing on cold days and keeping dry when it's wet may help prevent a dormant virus becoming active.
5. You can only catch cold and flu through breathing the same air as an infected person.
FALSE: It is certainly a fact that cold and flu viruses can travel through the air. So when a person infected with one of these viruses sneezes or coughs on or near you, you could get infected. However, these viruses are not just spread through the air. Touching an infected surface could result in transferring the virus onto your hands. Infected surfaces could include a telephone, door handle, computer keyboard or child's toy, for example. The flu virus can survive on a hard surface for 24 hours. Once on your hands, it can get into your body when you rub your eyes, or touch your nose or mouth. The key is to wash your hands thoroughly and often if you have a cold or flu, or if you're in an environment where someone else has an infection.
We hope that clears up a few of the "myths" but if you are ever in any doubt about what to do about colds or flu, always speak to a medical professional.
This article is for general information only and not intended as a substitute for medical advice. All information presented on these web pages is not meant to diagnose or prescribe. In all health related matters, always consult your healthcare professional.
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