Have you ever gotten the flu at least once in your lifetime? You may think that catching the flu isn't a big deal, that it's merely a runny nose and lost workdays - but is it?
Influenza, or "the flu", is a respiratory infection caused by a virus which spreads easily through droplets. It is highly contagious, and for certain groups of people like the elderly and young children, the flu can lead to serious complications, especially if left untreated.
Believing in the misguided "facts" out there puts you and your loved ones at risk. Here are some of the common myths busted:
Myth 1: The flu is just a really bad cold
One of the most common misconceptions floating around is that the flu and the common cold are the same thing. This is untrue. While the common cold fizzles out eventually, the flu however is more severe.
The common cold is usually mild, with a short period of runny nose, sore throat or cough.
However, influenza symptoms are usually more serious compared to the common cold. They include high fever, sore throat, cough, headaches, body aches and a stuffy nose.
The virus attacks the body by spreading through the upper and/or lower respiratory tract. It's best to seek treatment when experiencing symptoms.
Myth 2: My hands are clean enough if I wash them with water
You are right in thinking washing your hands with water can sufficiently remove visible dirt, but what about germs? Germs are not visible to the human eye, and you need soap and water to get rid of them.
It is a good hygiene practice to wash your hands with soap and water:
- Before and after meals
- Before handling food
- Before caring for a loved one (babies, the elderly)
- After using the toilet
- After blowing your nose (even with a tissue)
- After touching shared surfaces like tabletops, doorknobs, handrails, etc.
If soap and water or washing facilities are not readily available, use a hand sanitiser instead.
Myth 3: Healthy people don't need to be vaccinated
It is recommended for healthy individuals to go for a flu shot because the flu virus is ever adapting, and our immune systems may not always be up-to-date. Hence, a yearly vaccination will offer certain protection against nasty surprises.
If we protect ourselves, we protect our loved ones too.
The flu vaccination is strongly recommended for the elderly and their caregivers, very young children aged six months to five years, and people with low immunity or suffering from a chronic disease such as diabetes.
Pregnant women, healthcare workers and travellers can also benefit from the flu vaccine. Travellers are recommended to vaccinate two weeks before leaving the country.
Myth 4: I don't have to go to the doctor, I can recover at home or self-medicate
The flu can lead to serious complications if left untreated, especially for the elderly and young children.
Examples of complications include an increased risk of contracting pneumonia.
Think of your family and friends. It is socially responsible to prevent them from catching the flu from you by managing the symptoms early.
Go to a doctor and seek treatment if you are experiencing flu-like symptoms. After the visit, stay home to rest and wear a mask until you have recovered.
Myth 5: The flu doesn't spread so easily, I won't pass it to people
This delusion is the reason why people still go to work or attend events even when they are unwell.
Little do they see that they risk infecting others as the flu is highly contagious and can spread easily.
There are two common ways that the flu virus can spread from person to person. First, by breathing in droplets in the air released when an infected person coughs, sneezes or speaks.
Second, by touching a contaminated surface, for example door knobs and table tops.
In social environments like schools, workplaces and even at home, it can easily spread without your knowledge.
Even if you feel well, most adults with the flu virus are infectious even before symptoms develop and up to seven days after becoming sick. Children may carry the virus for more than seven days.
Thus, it is important to practice the two socially responsible habits below to prevent catching the flu or passing it on.
Stay at home
If you are unwell, rest at home. Avoid school, work and crowded places to prevent the spread of the virus to others.
Take a breather from physical activities like running and jogging.
Cover up with tissues or masks
If you are experiencing flu-like symptoms, always put on a mask. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
Dispose of the used tissues into a covered dustbin and wash your hands after doing so.
We dread catching the flu from others, so do your part to stop the spread as well.
With the right hygiene habits and an understanding of how the flu virus spreads, we can keep ourselves and our loved ones safe.
For more information, visit www.hpb.gov.sg or call 1800 223 1313.