Fact or Fiction: 10 Cold & Flu Concerns

Busting common myths about colds and the flu.
sick child

Andrew Bonwit, M.D., pediatric infectious disease expert at Loyola University Health System outside Chicago, explains why what you think you know about colds and flu just may be wrong.

1. If I go outside with my hair wet, I'll catch a cold: Fiction

Colds come from viruses, not from wet hair. It's probably not a good idea to get chilled so it's best to dress appropriately when heading outside in the cold.

2. Flu vaccines cause the flu: Fiction

The flu shot is an inactive form of the virus, so it's impossible to get the flu from it. There may be some minor reactions, but usually just muscle soreness at the injection site. Since the nasal drop does contain the live virus, it's not recommended for vulnerable patients. Still, the chances of getting the flu from the nasal drop are very slight.

3. If I don't vomit, I didn't have the flu: Fiction

Influenza can cause vomiting and diarrhea, but not always since influenza is mainly a respiratory illness. It's also possible to have a stomach virus that isn't influenza.

4. Feed a cold and starve the flu: Not really

The most important thing is to make sure you are well hydrated and eating as well balanced of a diet as you can. Don't force feed yourself or your child when ill, but try to get plenty of fluids and some electrolytes, such as sodium and potassium. Good sources are crackers, bananas, soups, and fruit juices.

5. Chicken soup helps cure a cold: Some Fact

Limited evidence shows that chicken soup might be helpful in fighting a cold. A small study has shown that it may help reduce the inflammatory response in your respiratory tract when you're sick and probably improves airflow and hydration. In any case, it couldn't hurt.

6. Viruses can survive on surfaces for hours: Fact

The length a virus can survive depends on the type of virus. The flu virus can live for 8-12 hours on hard surfaces, such as countertops and stainless steel sinks. On soft surfaces, such as cloth, it won't live very long. Still, it is extremely important to practice good hand hygiene. If someone in your home is sick, be sure to clean all hard surfaces often with appropriate household disinfects, like diluted bleach or disinfectant cleaning wipes.

7. If I get a cold or the flu, vitamin C will help me get better faster: Fact and Fiction

Some people think taking extra large doses of vitamin C will help them get better faster. This probably won't help since your body isn't likely to absorb that much of the extra vitamin C. You can find some benefit from consuming vitamin C naturally through normal supplement doses or eating fruits with lots of vitamin C, especially citrus fruits and other fruits and vegetables, such as onions. There's no guarantee it will make you better faster, but it may help some, and it can't hurt.

8. Taking zinc will make my cold go away faster: Some Fact

There is some mixed evidence. Limited studies have shown that throat lozenges with zinc have helped. Other zinc remedies, like nasal swabs, have caused negative side effects, such as people losing their sense of smell. Throat lozenges -- with zinc or not -- help relieve throat pain, so regardless of whether they help you get better faster, they will help relieve a sore throat. Just don't give them to a child under the age of 5, as they can be a choking hazard.

9. Sleep is one of the most important things for kids with a virus: Fact

Sleep is extremely important to help kids fight a virus. If they are sick, let them sleep. Just make sure they don't have difficulty being awakened, as this could be a sign of something more serious. Watch to make sure they are breathing normally. If not, call your doctor.

10. After three days, my child is no longer contagious: Depends on the virus

I know it sounds old fashioned, but one of the best ways to prevent viral illness is thoroughly washing your hands -- especially before and after you eat. Also, if you need to cough or sneeze, do it into a tissue and throw it away. Then, immediately wash your hands. If a tissue isn't available, cough or sneeze into your elbow. This will limit the spread of germs.

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