This holiday season, if you happen to dive into a freezing river to save an angel named Clarence from drowning…well, a lot of interesting things might happen.
But here’s what WON’T happen: You won’t come down with a cold or flu just because you’ve been soaked to the bone in freezing temperatures.
That’s cold & flu myth number one, busted by Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.
And if only Dr. Schaffner had just stopped right there.
But no. ABC News asked Dr. Shaffner and Dr. Philip Tierno, of New York University Langone Medical Center to bust a few other cold & flu myths.
Unfortunately, they ended up supporting more myths than they busted.
Here’s a myth that really gets under Dr. Schaffner’s craw: Flu shots can cause the flu.
Schaffner tells ABC that’s completely untrue: “That is the big myth, that no matter how hard we try and put it down, it keeps circulating.”
And do you know WHY it keeps circulating? Because the flu shot often makes people feel sick. Technically, they may not have the flu, but as the ABC article notes, it’s “common to experience reactions to the shot, such as achiness or a low-grade fever.”
Here’s a newsflash for Dr. Schaffner: Out here in the REAL WORLD, when people get a flu shot and then immediately come down with a couple of flu-like symptoms that make them feel like crap for 24 hours, they aren’t going to make a fine technical distinction. They’re going to say the shot gave them the flu.
So Dr. Schaffner might as well get comfortable with that myth, because it’s not going away.
But that isn’t the only flu shot mythology that gets the spotlight from ABC.
Dr. Tierno explains that this flu season is unique because they’ve predicted that the primary strain of flu will be the same as last season. That means this year’s flu shot is identical to last year’s.
So if you got a flu shot last year, does Dr. Tierno recommend getting another one this year?
You don’t even have to ask. Of course he does!
Dr. Tierno: “There’s no guarantee that the flu shot given last year gave people sufficient antibody protection, and this year’s shot will boost that protection.”
Well, he’s got it half right — there’s certainly no guarantee that last year’s shot actually worked at ALL!
As I’ve mentioned before, two years ago the Cochrane Collaboration (an independent research organization) reviewed every influenza vaccine study conducted between 1948 and 2007.
Their conclusion: “There is no evidence whatsoever that seasonal influenza vaccines have any effect, especially in the elderly and young children. No evidence of reduced cases, deaths, complications.”
As for the promise that this year’s shot will boost protection…well, I’d go back to the beginning of Dr. Tierno’s comment: “There’s no guarantee.” And that’s putting it mildly.
But the ABC article actually contains one excellent piece of advice: wash your hands.
“Although experts recommend flu shots, they also stress that washing hands is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of colds, flu and other illnesses.”
In fact, research from the Cochrane Collaboration shows that washing your hands frequently is THE BEST way to curb the spread of severe respiratory infection.
Dr. Tom Jefferson of Cochrane told the magazine Der Spiegel, “This method can fight against the 200 pathogens that bring about flu symptoms as well as against gastrointestinal viruses and completely unknown germs. One study done in Pakistan has shown that hand-washing can even save children’s lives.”
And THERE is your evidence-based myth buster: The flu shot just doesn’t measure up to clean hands.
Jenny Thompson is the Director of the Health Sciences Institute and editor of the HSI e-Alert. Through HSI, she and her team uncover important health information and expose ridiculous health misinformation, most notably through the HSI e-Alert.
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