There are a lot of things about the flu that we may have heard throughout the years, from friends, family, etc, but I want to let you know that a lot of these myths are simply not true.
The Flu vs. The Common Cold
Let's start with the flu itself. A lot of people will tell you, "Oh no, I have the flu." They actually don't have the flu, they just have a common cold, or an upper respiratory virus, which is caused by a very common virus called adenovirus or rhinovirus. Symptoms of the common cold include a sore throat, stuffy nose, feeling like your sinuses are draining and then you are coughing up some stuff that is nasty and drips down the back of your throat, and sinus pain and pressure. While this may feel like the flu, you actually do NOT have the flu unless you have high fevers (over 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit), body aches, a significant feeling of fatigue, sometimes nausea and vomiting, and often a very bad sore throat. While the common cold is something you can function with, aka, you could probably make it to work and do your job, albeit being tired, when you have the actual flu, you can barely get out of bed.
Testing For The Flu
If you think you have the actual flu, you should go to the doctor and get tested for the flu. The test can come back quickly, and the doctor can prescribe you Tamiflu. This only works if you actually have the flu, and if you get the medicine and start taking it preferably within the first 48 hours of symptom onset. You should cover your mouth with a mask if you have it to prevent spreading germs. If you have a fever, then you are contagious. If you are coughing and your cough/breath lands on someone near you, they could catch the flu from you. You actually can be contagious one day after symptoms start, and up to 5-7 days after symptoms begin. So even if you feel better, cover your mouth when you cough, and most importantly, wash your hands. Hand washing has been shown to be one of the best methods to prevent the flu or any contagious viruses.
Flu Shots & Prevention
The best way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu shot. This is offered at any heath care facility, and even drugstores such as CVS, and most of the time it is free. Let's debunk some myths about the flu shot. First of all, you need about 2 weeks for the flu shot to actually start working. Secondly, the flu shot does NOT cause the flu. The flu shot is created based on a dead and inactive virus that is injected, and your body spends about 2 weeks building up antibodies to it. During this time, the process of creating those antibodies and immune response can cause you to have very minor common-cold-like symptoms for a few days in some people. The flu shot is safe to take for most people who even have egg allergies. If you have severe egg allergies, talk to your doctor. Babies under 6 mos should not take the flu shot. If you have ever had Guillan-Barre syndrome, you should not take the flu shot. Guillan-Barre Syndrome (GBS) is an autoimmune ascending paralysis that can happen if your body creates an antibody to the flu shot that cross reacts with receptors that cause your muscles to move. It is extremely rare and in many studies has been shown only to happen in 1-2 people out of every 1 million who get the flu shot. The rate of cases of GBS in people who have had the flu is actually higher than the rate after the flu shot, because the flu itself can also cause GBS. Thus your chance of getting GBS is lower if you get the flu shot than if you actually get the flu. Also, the flu shot is safe during pregnancy.
The flu mist is a second option, and it comes from a live but weak virus. It also does NOT cause the flu, but it can cause cold or mild flu-like symptoms for a couple of days. The mist should not be used by pregnant women, people with severe allergies to the ingredients in the flu shot, people with asthma or heart disease, children under 2, adults over 50, children or teens who take aspirin, and people who have HIV or any other condition that causes immunosuppression. The recommendation for this varies based on the year, so check with your doctor. See Web MD (https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/prevention-15/vaccines/flu-vaccine-which-type) for more detail about the types of flu shots.
Finally, the bad news is that the flu shot is not always 100% effective for every strain of the flu. You can still get the flu if you get the flu shot. Every year the shot is created based on the best estimate from scientists as to what strains will predominate, but the flu virus is very intelligent and is good at mutating. While some years the shot has been as effective as 60-80%, other years it has been only about 35% effective. That being said, it is always recommended to get it (unless you're in a small category of patients for whom it is contraindicated) to reduce your overall chance of getting the flu. The flu is rarely life-threatening, but there are cases where it has been shown to be fatal, especially in older adults and young children. Most significantly, flu causes days missed from work, sick days, and generally not feeling well. So get your flu shot, wash your hands, and cover your mouth when you cough. Don't go to work if you have a fever, and if you have fever like symptoms, go get tested for the flu and get your Tamiflu so you can recover as quickly as possible.