Busting Flu Myths

By Corinne Rose

February 25, 2013 Updated Feb 25, 2013 at 7:37 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (www.incnow.tv) -- The flu season is still in full swing, with a staggering number of deaths across the country and here in Indiana.

So is it too late to get a flu shot... is one really necessary... and how long are you contagious before your symptoms develop?

First of all, the flu shot is only effective against one strain of the virus, and this season's is considered moderately effective, meaning four in ten people who get the shot will still get influenza.

But Allen County's health commissioner says young, healthy people who get the vaccine are less likely to spread it to people who can't fight it well.

"For the people who have a less robust immune system, what we're really hoping to do is not just that they won't get the influenza at all, but if they do get it, it's less severe. Much less likely to cause death, much less likely to cause serious complications," says Dr. Deborah McMahan.

Influenza is spread several ways. The obvious is when it's airborne... someone coughs, you breathe the virus in.

"But also that virus can settle and land on a surface, a pen, a counter, a hand rail, an elevator button, and all you have to do is touch that, and it can live there for a few hours. All you have to do is touch that and then touch your eye or your mouth or a mucus membrane and now you've exposed yourself," McMahan says.

And that means you can be contagious for three to four days before you start having symptoms!

"The thing about the incubation period is you're feeling fine but the virus is actively replicating in your body, so you are contagious at that point. So that's why all the well-intentioned people say that 'I don't want to get a flu shot but I won't go to work when I'm sick.' Well, you know, that doesn't really work because you're in work while you're feeling well but your body is actually very contagious," McMahan adds.

A combination of vigorous hand washing and gel sanitizer should help prevent spreading the flu.

And Dr. McMahan says there will be cases well into April and sporadically into the summer.

"Next year what I'm really excited about is the FDA approved the first quadrovalent vaccine, which will be protective against two influenza As and two influenza Bs. And I think that's going to be great because it's my impression that we're seeing more and more influenza B, and it'll be nice to have two of the circulating strains covered," says McMahan.

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