Stop Believing Flu Myths, They Do More Harm Than Good

When we, or someone close to us, happen to catch a cold or the flu, a common first instinct is to start overreacting and applying all the advice we ever got on the topic. In a fit of panic, we tend to forget that not all of this advice is good advice. A famous example is the vitamin C craze during the flu season, with people taking high doses of the vitamin to either prevent or treat their cold and flu despite there being plenty of scientific evidence that vitamin C isn’t effective at improving or preventing colds and the flu.
In this article, we’ll dispel 12 similarly common and often harmful myths about the common cold and the flu.

1. You can prevent colds and the flu by washing your hands more often

Myths about the Cold and Flu washing hands
There is no one universal habit that will help you prevent colds and the flu, and washing your hands is no exception. This isn't to say that washing your hands often won’t help you cut down on your risk of getting the flu, however. In fact, if you happen to spend time with people who have the flu, washing your hands often and cleaning the shared surfaces are among the best ways of minimizing your risks.
If you’re sharing space or appliances with the person who has the flu, make sure to wash your hands with soap as often as you can and avoid touching your face with your hands, as the influenza virus can survive on a surface for up to 8 hours.
You should also keep a distance of at least 6 feet (1.8 m) from a person with the flu or cold, as when they sneeze, the little droplets of saliva contaminated with viruses can travel through the air and land on you, significantly increasing your risk of contracting the disease.

2. ‘Feed a cold, starve a fever’

Myths about the Cold and Flu measuring temperature
This popular saying has no medical truth behind it, so the best thing you can do with it is to forget about its existence completely. The fact of the matter is that starving is the last thing to consider when having a cold or the flu, as you really need to support your body with as many nutrients as you can to help it fight the virus.
So, don’t starve and eat a healthy diet when you’re sick, and while you’re at it, also stay hydrated and drink your way to health and a swift recovery.

3. You can’t catch the flu in summer

Myths about the Cold and Flu woman blowing nose with tissue
Like most germs, the influenza virus is here to keep us company all year round, so there is no reason why you couldn’t catch the flu in summer if you happen to encounter it. But the thing is, you’re a lot more likely to be bombarded by the virus during the cold months, and there are several reasons why that is the case.
For one, people tend to congregate in closed, poorly ventilated spaces more in the cold months, so you’re more likely to meet someone with the flu during the fall and winter. Apart from that, the influenza virus itself is a bit more resilient in cold weather than it is in warm weather, as exposure to warm humid temperatures destroys the protective coating of the virus more quickly, cutting down the time it can survive on surfaces dramatically.
All this makes the cold months optimal for the spread of the flu virus, which is exactly why we typically refer to this time as the flu season. Still, the virus can technically lurk somewhere near you year-round, and people do get it in the summer as well.
Related Article: Do You Really Have the Flu?

4. Chicken soup will make you recover from the cold and flu faster

Myths about the Cold and Flu chicken soup
In terms of its ability to speed up your recovery, chicken soup is comparable to any other hot drinks, such as tea or warm cocoa. All these drinks can do is soothe your sore throat and hydrate your body. Both of these reasons make chicken soup and any other hot drink an excellent choice for people experiencing cold and flu symptoms, but don’t expect a miracle.
One advantage of chicken soup may be that it’s more nutritious than water or tea, so if you’re experiencing a loss of appetite, it may be a good way to get at least some nutrients into your body. That being said, smoothies and juices have a very similar effect as well, so chicken soup is by far not a necessity for people suffering from a cold or the flu.

5. If your symptoms persist for more than a few days or you have a high fever, you should take antibiotics

Myths about the Cold and Flu woman with a cold
If you feel like your flu or cold symptoms persist for more than a week or you’re experiencing a high fever that isn’t responsive to OTC drugs, a good idea is to visit or call a doctor, as you may be experiencing some complications.
What you shouldn’t do is take antibiotics right away, as these are useless for viral infections like the flu or colds. Antibiotics can only kill bacteria, and if it’s a virus causing your symptoms, they will do more harm than good for your recovery. Taking antibiotics unnecessarily can be dangerous, as it promotes antibiotic resistance and can cause side effects like diarrhea, digestive issues, nausea, and fungal infections.

6. Sweating out a fever will help you recover faster

Myths about the Cold and Flu boy under a blanket
The theory is that raising your body’s temperature will help you kill the viruses infecting your body, so you should exercise, or breathe in warm steam or go to the sauna to raise your body’s temperature. Unfortunately, there is no scientific proof of that theory, and sweating profusely may actually cause dehydration, so you may end up slowing down your recovery by engaging in any of these practices.
If you’d like to learn more on this topic, we have a dedicated article on the topic, which you can access by clicking here: Is It Possible to Sweat Out a Fever or Cold?

7. You won't spread the flu if you're not feeling ill

Myths about the Cold and Flu business woman on the phone
This might come as a surprise, but even healthy-looking people can be carrying the influenza virus or the rhinovirus. In fact, 20-30% of people with the influenza virus exhibit no symptoms, but you can still get the virus from them and become sick.
Apart from that, some people infected with the influenza virus can exhibit no symptoms during the first day, but they will spread the disease nevertheless.

8. The flu is just a stronger cold

Myths about the Cold and Flu man with a cold
It’s understandable how these two conditions may be confused, as both colds and the flu cause symptoms like a runny nose, sore throat, fever, sneezing, and coughing. However, the two conditions are caused by two distinct strains of viruses - the rhinovirus causes a cold, whereas the influenza virus produces the flu.
Of the two conditions, the flu is a lot more dangerous, and sometimes even life-threatening. In the United States alone, 36 thousand people die as a result of the flu each year, and around 200 thousand are hospitalized. Risks are especially high for immunocompromised individuals, children, seniors and persons with some preexisting conditions.

9. It cannot be the flu if you don’t have digestive issues

Myths about the Cold and Flu
The presence or lack of digestive symptoms is not a way to distinguish between a cold and the flu. As a matter of fact, the influenza virus rarely ever causes nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting.
The confusion likely stems from a group of viruses not related to influenza that cause a condition commonly referred to as ‘the stomach flu’. But don’t be confused, digestive issues are a poor identifier of the flu. Also, digestive symptoms alone are more likely than not a different germ altogether and should not be confused with influenza.

10. Drinking milk will worsen your cold

Myths about the Cold and Flu woman drinking a glass of milk
Despite popular belief, drinking milk while you’re suffering from a cold or the flu will not worsen your symptoms. What it will do is make your phlegm slightly thicker, which can cause some discomfort, but it is a myth that milk makes you produce more phlegm.
Overall, it’s completely safe to drink milk and reap all of its nutritional and hydrating properties even if you’re suffering from a cold or the flu, so drink away.

11. If you get your flu shot too early, it won’t last

Myths about the Cold and Flu nurse giving a shot to a man
At this point, we’re more than sure that you’re aware of the importance of getting a flu shot in preventing influenza infection, so we won’t focus on that topic. One of the common concerns with the vaccination is that people are afraid to get the shot too early, as they think it won’t last throughout the flu season.
If that is one of your concerns, rest assured that the vaccination will protect you from the virus for much longer than the flu season. Even if you get vaccinated in late August, you’ll be protected for at least 6 months, or at least until the end of February.

12. Not dressing warm or going out with wet hair is guaranteed to cause a cold

Myths about the Cold and Flu woman with long hair in the wind
You've surely heard this one from your mother and maybe even repeated it to your kids and grandkids, but you’d be surprised at how little being cold and wet actually has to do with a cold and the flu. We already explained why people are more likely to suffer from colds and the flu in the winter months earlier, but let’s also add that viral infections don’t magically appear when you feel cold, you have to be exposed to the virus in order to get infected, so being cold won't cause a cold or the flu.
What is true, however, is that sudden jumps in temperatures can make your immune system more susceptible to infections, so you probably should try to maintain a steady temperature and adjust your clothing accordingly anyway.
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