Since I have a YMCA membership, I get to watch a lot of closed-captioned headline news that otherwise I would just as soon have skipped. Last fall, during the height of the Ebola panic, there was nonstop coverage of just how ape-shit everyone in the USA should go over the arrival of the disease to our shores. But now that we're in the middle of peak flu season? Zero. Zilch. Nothing. I've seen more coverage on CNN about Cadbury creme eggs than I have about the fact that we've seen 45 pediatric flu deaths so far this season - and that there are undoubtedly more to come.
Since I can't count on CNN to fan the freak-out flames of something that's worth making some noise over, I'm willing to do it myself - and to tell you what to do with your feelings of worry. Here are some myths you've heard about the flu (spoilers: it is something to worry about) with a healthy dollop of fact-based reality to go along with the fear.
Myth: The flu is no biggie.
Truth: The flu sucks. The flu sucks giant, pendulous, upper-respiratory-infection balls. If you think you've had the flu and it didn't really slow you down at all, you probably just had a cold - the flu is a cold on steroids. Chills, fatigue, full-body aches - sometimes even to the point of requiring hospitalization. That hardly ever happens, though, right? Well, only if you consider 8,000 times so far this season 'hardly ever'.
And did you miss the part about 45 dead children already this year? Come on, son. Get your flu shot. Get yourself protected, and protect the people around you, too.
Myth: I'm neither very old or very young, so it doesn't matter at all if I get the flu (or the flu shot).
Truth: You suck.
Sorry, that isn't a very good answer. Let me elaborate: you really suck. Leaving aside your own chances of getting ill, sure, maybe you don't have children, or you don't see your elderly parents often. Do you also never go to the grocery store and spew your contagious, pre-symptomatic flu germs all over the cart that an elderly person is going to use after you? When you get sick, do you see a veterinarian instead of a family doctor to avoid gently misting the entire waiting room full of babies in car seats every time you sneeze?
If you're not interested in being a thoughtful member of society, consider this: pandemic strains like the Spanish flu in 1918 and the H1N1 version of 2009 hit health 20-to-50-year-olds the hardest. But yes, I'm sure you're immune and probably immortal as well, so why not take a gamble on getting sick?
Myth: This year's flu shot is useless.
Truth: It's true that the effectiveness of the vaccine varies from year to year - scientists have to make an educated guess before flu season starts as to which of the many, many strains of the flu are going to be the ones actually circulating around. And unfortunately, this year's main Killer Flu strain is one that mutated quite a bit compared to the version that's in the vaccines.
So yes, the CDC has said that this year's shot is on the lower end of the effectiveness spectrum - getting the shot cuts your chances of getting the flu by about a quarter. But if that doesn't sound like enough of a reason to get stuck, keep in mind that even if you do still get the flu after getting a shot, your symptoms shouldn't be as intensely fever-tastic and snot-tacular.
Myth: You're just as likely to get the flu from the vaccine as from a sick person.
Truth: Repeat after me - you cannot get the flu from a flu shot. You cannot get the flu from a flu shot. You CANNOT get the FLU from a FLU SHOT.
Myth: But I totally got sick right after my flu shot last year!
Truth: You got sick right after getting your flu shot because there's a two-week-long window before immunity from the shot kicks in, and somewhere in that time frame, you touched a snot-laced grocery basket without washing your hands afterwards, or you got coughed on by a fellow bus passenger, or something. There's not much I can tell you except, but maybe you'll have better luck if you get your shot earlier next time.
Myth: It's too late to get the vaccine now.
Truth: Flu season lasts longer than an Energizer battery. It peaks in January and February, but it can last well into the late spring. Cancel your evening plans and hit up Walgreen's or CVS to see if they have any vaccines still stocked.
Myth: I already got the flu once this year, so I'm safe.
Truth: Remember how there are different versions of the flu that scientists pick between when making the vaccine? Different versions of the flu = if you get sick from one version in September, you could still get slammed with a different one in February.
Myth: The doctor won't give me an antibiotic for my flu because he's a big meanie.
Truth: Antibiotics fight bacteria. The flu is a virus. Throwing an antibiotic at a virus like the flu is about as useful as eating a Kit-Kat bar because you are thirsty: it may make you happy for the moment, but it is not going to do anything to address your actual problem.
Myth: The flu is always safe to treat at home.
Truth: 45 pediatric deaths should be all you need to know to bust this myth. Home remedies to manage symptoms are all well and good, but only up to a point, and it's important to be able to recognize that point well before it becomes the point of no return. If you or your child are struggling to breathe, if you are too weak to get out of bed, or if you find yourself too tired to eat or drink, get thee to a doctor's care, ASAP. Tell them Science Mom sent you.