Debunking Old Wives’ Tales: Part Two

Monday, January 14, 2013

This is part two in a series on old wives’ tales on colds and flu. Ivor Horn, MD, MPH, is a general pediatrician at Children's National Health System.

It is that time of year again. It is cold and flu season and based on recent media reports, it’s a doozy.

In our home that means hand sanitizers for the kids’ backpacks and lunchboxes. I prefer the ones that hook on the outside so I know my kids see them. Hopefully, they actually use them.

We also make sure that everyone in the family gets their flu vaccine. Oh, and ask my kids about the hand washing lecture. (Insert image of them rolling their eyes and say, “We know. We know” here.) That’s how we arm ourselves in the Horn household. In the office, cold and flu season means helping arm my patients and their families. Sometimes that means I spend a lot of time helping families sort fact from fiction.  In part two of this series I’m sharing a little behind the scenes peek at what I tell parents about snot and what not.

Greenish mucus means your child has something worse than a cold.
FALSE. It’s just the body doing it’s work. Even though green mucus appears when a child is ill, it does not mean things are getting worse and does not determine the type of infection.

Colds and flu are most contagious before symptoms appear.
FALSE. It’s not that people are more contagious, they’re just spreading illness before they know that they’re sick. A person is just as contagious the day before symptoms appear as they are when the first symptoms arrive.

Colds cause ear infections. 
FALSE. You have something called a Eustachian tube that connects the sinuses with the nasal passages and the middle ear, and colds and congestions can cause that tube to fill and bacteria to grow. The reason kids get more ear infections is because that tube is longer when you’re younger and the angle makes it more likely to get an infection, but when you’re older, it changes so the fluid can drain better.

Not taking care of a cold leads to the flu.
FALSE. The bug that causes a cold is not the same as the bug that causes the flu. Flu is caused by the influenza virus; a cold is caused by a rhinovirus.

Don’t get a flu shot, it will give you the flu.
FALSE. Each year, the influenza vaccine protects against three different strands of influenza as determined by researchers based on the prior year’s outbreak. It is possible to become infected by a strand not covered by the vaccine, even if you get a shot.

Breathing the same air as a sick person, will make you sick.
FALSE. Illness is spread through droplets, not through breathing the same air. Those droplets need to be shared from someone through an act like sneezing or coughing, this is why it’s important to wash hands regularly and use proper hygiene.

Here are some links that you may find helpful:I hope this helps you separate the facts from the myths related to flu. Though most people aren't seriously impacted many die from the flu each year and it is important that we all are armed with the truth – and hand sanitizer isn't bad either.

Are there any other myths you'd like us to debunk?

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