You may think you’re out of the germ-laden, sniffling and sneezing woods, but the truth is that February is typically the peak of cold and flu season–which means it’s also the peak of flu season myths. Whether it be the mystical, magical healing powers of chicken soup, or the idea that wet clothes or hair can make you more susceptible, these rumors get circulated every year…even though they have no foundation in science.
First, it’s important to clarify that the flu is not just a bad cold. The flu is a separate virus, which has similar (but more serious) symptoms as the common cold. But, because the two are so often conflated (during “cold and flu season”),the myths surrounding them both are pretty interchangeable–even if the diseases themselves are not.
But regarding the myths themselves, plenty of “old wive’s tales” (which is kind of an offensive term, don’t you think?) are actually vaguely rooted in truth–they’ve just been expanded in ways that make them untrue. For example, chicken soup may seem to help speed up the healing process–but it’s only because it’s a fluid with plenty of electrolytes, both of which can help your body fight off invading bugs. There’s nothing to chicken itself, but drinking more fluids (especially those which, like soup, often have a lot of nutrient-rich veggies) and getting enough electrolytes can help replace those lost during fever sweats.
Similarly, the myth that wet hair and feet make a cold worse probably began because cold and flu season coincides with the return of cold rainy weather–which means you’re more likely to have wet feet and hair. But there’s nothing inherently sickening about being cold and wet. However, if you, say, develop hypothermia, that can weaken your immune system, and make you more susceptible to getting sick.
“Starve a fever, feed a cold” is another popular piece of advice–but is also not accurate. Neither starving nor overfeeding a disease will help it run its course or make it go away, but an appropriate amount of healthy, immunity-boosting foods can help your body get over something–and avoid catching anything new.
Newer myths, however–like those surrounding the flu shot–are harder to quash, because few people seem interested in doing research and learning facts. For example, a lot of critics of the flu shot lump it in with other vaccines, which have become a politically-charged, highly-polarizing issue, and fear that they may be unsafe, or that they may themselves cause the flu. But neither of those theories are true. The flu shot isn’t dangerous, and doesn’t cause the flu (though some mild, flu-like symptoms may occur). In fact, it can’t cause the flu, because it doesn’t actually contain a functional influenza virus; it only contains components. The notion that the flu shot can make you sick is simply untrue.
If you’re coming down with something, don’t believe rumors–no matter how old or truthful they may seem. The only way to really get better is to rest plenty, drink fluids, eat nutritious, balanced meals (as best you can–maybe invest in some green smoothies?) and, if it gets bad, go see a doctor, who will tell you the truth.