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10 Most Common Myths About Immunology

Updated on June 23, 2016

1. I Can Take Antibiotics for My Cold and Flu

While taking medication prescribed by a doctor sounds like a great idea, beware of the type of medication you are asking for. Many people go to the doctor with cold and flu symptoms and ask for antibiotics and some doctors will prescribe them just to appease the patient. While taking these drugs probably won’t cause any harm to you, they won’t help you either. Antibiotics target bacteria which are distinctly different than the viruses that are causing your cold or flu.

The common cold is most often caused by the Rhinovirus, while Influenza A and Influenza B viruses can cause the seasonal flu. The mechanisms used by antibiotics target the structures and processes of bacteria which have no overlap with the structures and processes of viruses. So those antibiotics your doctor might sympathetically supply won’t actually help your cold or flu at all. The drug you want to ask for is an antiviral, but if you only have a cold that probably isn’t necessary either.

2. Vaccines Can Cause Autism

There has been much debate and confusion over this in the media. Jenny McCarthy was extremely adamant about warning against the possible dangers of vaccines in 2010 and organized a movement of parents to call for accountability of vaccine companies. At this point vaccines were not new, but autism was hardly understood and its rates were rising. Parents wanted answers and they believed that vaccines could be the link.

However, the science has always been pretty clear. There is no scientific evidence to support the fact that vaccines cause autism. There is a general positive correlation between the amount of known autism cases and the amount of vaccines administered. There is also a positive correlation between the amount of autism cases and the increase in college costs. Are high tuitions rates causing Autism???

In all seriousness, there is still a lot we do not know about autism. However, correlation does not equal causation.

3. My Flu Shot Gave Me the Flu

Have you ever gotten the flu shot and then started developing symptoms of a cold or flu shortly after? Well, there are a couple of reasons you may be experiencing this, but the flu shot is not the reason.

The Flu shot is a vaccine that administers a killed virus into the bloodstream via needle. Killed viruses can not cause influenza. The nasal spray, however, is a live attenuated vaccine which is a live influenza virus. However, it has been weakened to the point where it should not be able to cause infection.

However, when we receive vaccines our immune systems get activated. So if you have nasal congestion, it is most likely caused by the activation of your immune system and it doesn’t mean that you are sick. Your body is simply responding as if you are and believe it or not, that’s exactly what you want!

When our immune systems are activated against the dead or weakened flu virus, we are able to fight off the actual flu before we even notice any symptoms.

4. All This Pollen is Making Me Congested

If you’re allergic to pollen, you probably avoid it like the plague! Spring might be your most dreaded season. Instead of enjoying the sunshine, warm weather, and beautiful flowers, you are met with constant sneezing and a stuffy nose. You hate it, but pollen isn’t the real culprit and you might be surprised to find out who it is.

The culprit is none other than you!

Allergies are caused by our own overactive immune systems. Pollen is not harmful to humans. We should be able to come into contact with pollen and leave unscathed. The problem is some people’s immune systems view pollen as a dangerous parasite. The immune system then activates cells that cause antibodies to be released against the pollen. The activation of the immune system causes a release of histamine which is what causes the inflammation in your nose making you so congested.

So, technically, it isn’t pollen’s fault. It’s yours!

5. I caught a cold because I was out in the cold without a jacket

Do you remember when we were kids and loved playing in the snow? We’d be ready to run out the door and our Moms would stop us. They’d dress us in 15 layers of sweaters, snow pants, snow boots, hats, scarfs, mittens --- the whole nine yards. They’d tell us that if we didn’t bundle up we’d catch a cold. So was Mom right?

Well, like I said earlier, the common cold is caused by the Rhinovirus. It can be transmitted from person to person. For example, if someone with the cold sneezes and doesn’t cover their mouth, you can contract the cold from them. It can also be transmitted by surfaces. If someone with the cold sneezes into their hand and touches a surface, then you can contract the cold from that surface. What you cannot do is catch a cold from being in the cold.

6. No one has been cured of HIV

Researchers are constantly hard at work trying to understand HIV and doctors are doing their best to treat it. There have been major findings and contributions to the field, but finding a universal cure has proven to be extremely challenging.

Finding a vaccine for HIV has been challenging as well. After all, who wants to be the one to get injected with HIV to see if it actually works? So no one has been cured of HIV. Right?

Wrong! There has been one person cured of HIV, and it’s not Magic Johnson. His name is Timothy Brown. He is also known as the “Berlin Patient.” In 1995, Brown was diagnosed with HIV and was treated with antiviral therapy. Twelve years later was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and treated with chemotherapy. When the chemo was found unsuccessful, he received a stem cell transplant which left him cured of his cancer and HIV.

7. Zika causes microcephaly

There has been a lot of coverage in the media lately about Zika. The direct symptoms of Zika include fever, rash, and joint pain, but many people with Zika don’t have any symptoms at all. Zika can actually be diagnosed by a simple blood test and can be treated the same way we treat the flu.

We’ve all heard doctors and scientists alike warning pregnant women and women planning to get pregnant not go to regions known to have the Zika virus. These are cautionary warnings that SHOULD be heeded.

However, there isn’t any scientific data as of yet that supports that Zika causes microcephaly. Scientists are still hard at work researching the areas where Zika is most prevalent. Right now there is only a correlation. As I said earlier, correlation does not always mean causation.

Again, please heed the warnings of healthcare professionals and scientists until more conclusive data comes forth. It’s always better to safe than sorry.

8. Cracking Your Knuckles Causes Arthritis

Are you a knuckle cracker? Some think it is dreadfully annoying and for others they barely even notice they are doing it. Some people do it out of anxiety and some in preparation to do something physical, but what is it actually doing to our bodies? Does it really cause arthritis?

Absolutely not. Cracking your knuckles is not the cause of arthritis.

Two of the major types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis can be caused by wear and tear. However, it’s more common in occupations of manual labor. Cracking your knuckles does not cause enough wear and tear to cause osteoarthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis is actually an autoimmune disease. An autoimmune disease occurs when your immune system attacks your own body. Rheumatoid arthritis is caused when your immune system attacks a substance in your joints. So you absolutely cannot get this type of arthritis from cracking your knuckles.

9. We don’t need to immunize against Polio because no one has Polio anymore

This is a common misconception based on misunderstanding vaccines. Polio still exists. In fact, the only disease that has been completely eradicated is Smallpox. The reason why you may not know anyone with Polio is because so many people have taken the vaccine which allows for herd immunity. Herd immunity is when people who are not immune to a disease are safe because there are so many people in their community who are immune.

Think of it this way: if everyone around you is immune to Polio because they’ve received the Polio vaccine, you won’t get Polio because there is no one for you to contract it from. However, if people develop the mindset that you don’t have get vaccines anymore, then the amount of people around you who will be immune to Polio will decrease drastically! Therefore you will become susceptible to Polio and there may even be an epidemic.

10. Inflammation is My Enemy

With the cold and flu come many symptoms from itchy and sore throat to sneezing to postnasal drip, but the inflammation is the worst! It’s the dreaded stuffy nose. It’s the sleepless nights and constant blowing. It’s Vick’s vapor rub and Nyquil. The inflammation caused by cold and flu can be really annoying, but is inflammation really your enemy?

Nope, in fact, inflammation is our great ally. It’s actually a sign that your immune system is working. When pathogens enter the body, one of the first responses of the immune system is inflammation. It occurs because powerful immune cells are rushing to the site of infection and are killing the nasty invaders! Inflammation also helps to wall off the area of infection to keep it from spreading to other parts of your body. It may be a pain (literally) but at least you know your immune system is doing its job.

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