Can the vaccine make you sick? What should you do if your coworker (or co-sleeper) is a walking germ? Are natural cures worth the cash? These are the flu answers you'd get from a top doctor if she were your bestie. By Lisa Mulcahy, REDBOOK.
You can't get the flu from the flu shot
"One of the most common questions I'm asked by my friends is whether you can get the flu from the vaccine. I always answer no, but even my husband is convinced that the head cold he often gets after the flu vaccine was caused by the shot. My own husband! The truth is that the flu shot contains inactive virus that cannot cause the flu. But it can take a couple of weeks to build immunity, so you might still get sick if you were exposed to the virus before or right after going in for the shot. Also, the flu vaccine is not 100 percent effective, so even if you get it, there's still a chance you can become sick. All that said, the absolute best way to protect yourself is to be vaccinated. And the more people who do, the better off we all are. By getting my kids vaccinated, I'm also protecting their friends, their teachers, and their elderly grandparents." -Mallika Marshall, M.D., urgent care physician at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and medical contributor to ABC's Katie
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If you smoke, stop - end of story
"Of course, I tell every smoker in my life to quit for their overall health, but few of them know that smoking can have a very dangerous effect on your body if you get influenza. Not only can cigarettes do a number on your immune system, but when you smoke, you're disabling essential mechanisms that help your lungs fight the flu virus. Smoking destroys the lining of your lower airways, actually creating openings in them. Smoking also disables the little hairs on the surface of the lungs that act like a broom to sweep away infection; the result can be a life-threatening complication such as viral pneumonia, or even worse, a bacterial supervirus that's resistant to antibiotics. That risk should be enough to make anyone break the habit." -Arnold Monto, M.D., professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan School of Public Health in Ann Arbor, MI
Don't be the person who always gets sick!
"My own daughter is one of those people. She doesn't get enough sleep, and doesn't always eat as well as she could, and those things absolutely play a role in your immune system. I tell her to stay hydrated, eat fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin C, and excuse herself if friends are coughing and sneezing and maybe not covering their mouths as they should." -Sorana Segal-Maurer, M.D., director of the infectious disease division of the department of medicine at New York Hospital Queens in Flushing, NY
Be careful with popular natural remedies
"Everyone wants to know if Oscillococcinum-a homeopathic therapy found in health-food stores-works on the flu. A small number of studies suggest that taking it may reduce the duration of illness from the flu, but only by a few hours. Another popular one I get asked about is Sambucol, or elderberry syrup; it has some antiviral properties that can ease symptoms, and one study showed that people who took it felt better an average of four days faster than those who took a placebo. But there is not enough evidence to suggest that it can prevent colds or the flu. If you do decide to try either of these remedies, check with your doctor first. They're not recommended for babies or pregnant women, and can also interact with certain medications. I tell friends who want natural relief that their best bets are salt-water gargles to soothe a sore throat, and neti-pot rinses to help with nasal congestion. For a cough, drinking tea with a teaspoon of honey or breathing in the steam from a hot shower can help too." -Mallika Marshall, M.D.
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Flu can be deadly if you're pregnant
"I can't tell you how upset I was recently when I walked into an ICU and had to attend to a critically ill mom-to-be who later died of flu complications. So, as the dad of a new baby myself, I tell every pregnant woman I know that, yes, you are at a higher risk of complications and death from influenza if you get it, and if you don't die, the illness could adversely affect your baby, especially if you get sick during your third trimester. Doctors still don't fully understand why, but most likely it involves your inability to breathe properly-you can't possibly pass the proper amount of oxygen to your unborn child if you're struggling for breath yourself, and that can harm the fetus in many different ways. Absolutely get your flu shot, and call your doctor just to be safe to discuss treatment options if you do start feeling sick." -Cameron Wolfe, M.D., infectious disease specialist at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, NC
Quarantine the sickie in your family
"I tell my friends: If someone in your family gets the flu, the best way to avoid passing it around is to set up a sick room in your home. It's okay for one or two family members to act as a caregiver to the sickie-however, this isn't a role you want to volunteer for if you are pregnant or have a pre-existing medical condition yourself, because it could put you at higher risk for more serious illness. When you set up their sick room, make sure you have these items on hand: a cooler with ice and drinks to stay hydrated, a trash can with a bag so you can easily dispose of it, alcohol-based hand rub, and, of course, plenty of tissues. These are all recommended by the CDC-which also suggests a humidifier and, yes, face masks. The sick family member should wear one any time he or she has to leave the room, say to go to the bathroom-although if you have more than one bathroom in the house, designate one as a Flu Zone and have the rest of the family use the other." -Wilbur H. Chen, M.D., infectious disease expert at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore
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Friends don't let friends go to work with the flu
"I make a point of telling my pals this little-known but important fact: You can spread the flu even if you're basically asymptomatic. This means that if you've been around someone who's sick and find yourself with a fever, cough, or even just body aches, you may have influenza and could pass it to someone else with a weaker immune system, regardless of whether you have full-fledged flu symptoms. So you should take precautions, such as coughing into your elbow. If you do get sick, stay home from work until your symptoms really start to fade, or at least 24 hours after your fever breaks. It's good for you and your colleagues!" -Rekha Murthy, M.D., medical director of hospital epidemiology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles
Don't believe the exercise myth
"So many people I know start pushing themselves as soon as they begin to feel a little better during a bout of the flu, and then tell me they can't believe it when they get knocked back down. The truth is, once you start feeling symptoms, you really have to let your illness run its course. I swear by the 72-hour rule: no gym trips for at least three days after your fever breaks, and that's only if you're feeling better. It's a myth that exercise will help you get over the flu faster. In fact, when you do go back, cut the intensity of your workout by half until all of your symptoms are gone. Take it easy, give yourself time, listen to your body, and you'll be on the road to recovery for real-no relapsing!" -Ian K. Smith, M.D., cohost of The Doctors
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