Top 10 myths and truths about viruses and bacteria

Test your knowledge of germs and your health

Top 10 myths and truths about viruses and bacteria

Source: Adapted from Soap and Water & Common Sense, courtesy House of Anansi Press

The myth: My immune system is healthy, so I don’t need immunization. Besides, vaccines are dangerous.

The truth: Vaccines work with your immune system to help you fight infection. A report of a potential link between the MMR vaccine and autism has been debunked by scientific evidence. Vaccines are safe and effective, and our best protection against many infections.

The myth: I can stop taking antibiotics when I start to feel better.

The truth: Antibiotics take time to work completely against bacterial infections. You need to take the full course you are prescribed to be sure the infection is cured, even if you are feeling better.

The myth: Antibiotics will make me better when I have a cold or the flu.

The truth: Antibiotics work only against bacteria. Most coughs, earaches, and sore throats and all colds and flus are caused by viruses. Antibiotics don’t work on viruses and won’t help you recover from these infections.

The myth: Over-the-counter cough and cold medications cure infections.

The truth: Medications for fevers’by themselves or in combination with decongestants, antihistamines, and cough suppressants’don’t cure illness. They just help make the symptoms more bearable until your body’s immune system is able to fight off the virus. They may help you feel a bit better, but you could still be infectious to others. Cough and cold medications don’t work and can be dangerous in young children, so they should be avoided.

The myth: Superbugs are resistant to handwashing and cleaning.

The truth: Washing your hands or using an alcohol-based hand rub will protect you from superbugs just as well as from other bacteria and viruses. Superbugs may be resistant to some antibiotics, making infections difficult to treat, but they are still susceptible to cleaning and are helpless against good hygiene.

The myth: I don’t need to worry about having a fever if it’s not too high.

The truth: Even a low-grade fever is often a sign that your body is fighting an infection. If you have a fever with a cough or with vomiting and diarrhea or a rash, these can all be signs that the infection may be one that you can pass on to others. You should stay home and isolate yourself, and call your health-care provider for advice if your symptoms are worrisome.

The myth: I need to use dish soap with an antibacterial in it to be sure that my dishes are properly cleaned and safe to use.

The truth: Plain soaps and detergents work just fine for washing dishes and clothes, cleaning your house, or washing your hands. Antibacterial agents in soaps and detergents can lead to the development of antibiotic-resistant bugs in the environment, which can then cause hard-to-treat infections.

The myth: Organic foods are safer for me and my family.

The truth: ‘Organic’ doesn’t mean free of bugs, and in fact organic fruits and vegetables may have more risk of causing infection if they are not cleaned properly or cooked before you eat them.

The myth: Unpasteurized milk is healthier for me

The truth: Unpasteurized milk has no documented health benefits over pasteurized milk, and it may put you and your family at risk of infections.

The myth: Pets such as cats and dogs are immune to infectious diseases.

The truth: Household pets can carry bacteria and can get sick from many types of bacteria, viruses, and parasites. To keep yourself and your family from getting an illness from your pet, always clean your hands after playing with pets or touching their food, toys, or sleeping areas, and before preparing food.

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