Breaking Down Common Health Myths Separating Fact From Fiction

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As scientists discover new information, long-held beliefs are sometimes debunked. NewYork-Presbyterian experts take a look at some common health myths and separate fact from fiction.

Being able to evaluate the credibility of health-related news and information has never been more important. Learn how to identify reputable sources and avoid misinformation.

1. Measles is a contagious disease

Measles is an extremely contagious, serious and highly infectious viral disease that causes a red rash and fever. It used to be common in the United States but has become rare since the development of a vaccine and widespread vaccination. The virus is easily transmitted through the air by coughing or sneezing. It can also spread through direct contact with an infected person or a contaminated surface.

Complications from measles include blindness, brain swelling (encephalitis), severe diarrhoea and dehydration, ear infections and respiratory infections such as pneumonia. It is also very dangerous for pregnant women and their babies. It is especially severe for malnourished young children, those with insufficient vitamin A or people with weak immune systems from diseases like HIV/AIDS.

Measles is so contagious that if one unvaccinated person has it, nine out of 10 people who are close to him or her will get the infection too. The virus is spread through the air by infected droplets that spray into the air when a sick person coughs or sneezes. The droplets can land on surfaces and remain infectious for two hours.

2. The flu shot causes the flu

Many people get the flu shot each year, protecting them against one of the most serious respiratory illnesses. However, there are still myths surrounding the vaccine that need to be addressed.

The flu shot cannot cause the flu, as it does not contain any living viruses. It only contains inactivated or killed flu viruses or a single protein from the virus, which is not infectious. The symptoms you may experience a day or two after the shot are due to your body’s immune response and are not the flu itself.

Getting the flu can lead to serious complications and even death, especially in people at higher risk for serious symptoms, such as infants, older adults, and those with medical conditions like asthma or diabetes. While the vaccine can’t prevent all cases of influenza, it does significantly reduce the number of deaths and hospital stays caused by the virus. And it’s important to remember that the vaccine must be re-shot each year because the flu virus changes (mutates) each season.

3. Vaccines cause autism

The vaccines that protect kids from diseases like measles, mumps and rubella are not only effective but also safe. Unfortunately, media reports and activist groups have been successful at scaring parents into believing that vaccines cause autism. By refusing vaccination, parents leave their children vulnerable to resurgent and potentially deadly childhood illnesses.

In the 1990s, British doctor Andrew Wakefield published a paper in The Lancet linking measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccines to autism. His work was based on fraudulent research and he later lost his medical license. Since then, many studies have found no link between vaccines and autism. But the myth persists. The idea of a vaccine-autism link fits people’s tendency to search for patterns in complex and confusing situations. This cognitive bias is why some parents continue to refuse vaccination, putting their children at risk for serious and often fatal diseases. Moreover, avoiding vaccines exposes others in the community to resurgent disease, too.

4. Drinking water makes you lose weight

Drinking water helps keep the body hydrated, which is important for many bodily functions. However, drinking water does not automatically lead to weight loss. If you are trying to lose weight, the most effective way to do so is through a balanced diet and exercise.

Some studies have found that drinking water reduces appetite, but these are limited to young healthy adults. One reason for this may be that when the stomach is full of water, there is less room for food, and people eat fewer calories.

In addition, drinking too much water can cause a dangerous imbalance of electrolytes and lead to water intoxication. So, while it is beneficial to drink water throughout the day, it should not be used as a substitute for other calorie-free beverages.

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