Common Misconceptions About the Flu

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Friday, October 21, 2005; 11:08 AM

Here we highlight a few common misconceptions that we hope will make you better informed this flu season.

36,000 Americans die of flu-related illnesses during a typical flu season

CLOSER LOOK: It is very hard to know how many people die from any given disease because there is often much uncertainty in determining the cause of death. This is particularly true for the flu. That's because it shares symptoms with so many other diseases, and because people most likely to die a flu-related death are also at high risk for many other causes of death. Read More: Research-Basics: Understanding How Big a Risk Is

Those most at risk are people age 50 years and older

CLOSER LOOK: Ninety percent of what are labeled flu-related deaths occur among people age 65 years and older. For people younger than 65 (including children), the chance of a flu-related death is much smaller - about 1 in 100,000.

The flu vaccine will prevent me from getting sick

CLOSER LOOK: Getting the vaccine does not guarantee you will not get sick from the flu or die from it. Despite a dramatic increase in vaccination among the elderly, deaths from the flu and pneumonia have hardly budged. Read More: How Well Does the Vaccine Work?

As more people get vaccinated, the flu-related death rate declines

CLOSER LOOK: Despite a dramatic increase in vaccination among the elderly, deaths from the flu and pneumonia have hardly budged.

Information gathered from reports by Steven Woloshin, Lisa Schwartz and Gilbert Welch are physician-researchers in the VA Outcomes Group in White River Junction, Vt., and faculty members at the Dartmouth Medical School. They conduct regular seminars on how to interpret medical studies. (See http://www.9vaoutcomes.9org/.) The views expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the Department of Veterans Affairs or the United States Government.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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