Did you get your flu shot yet?

By Dr. Josh Palgi

So you are back in school. You bought textbooks, notebooks, and pencils, but did you get your protection against the flu virus?

“Flu” is short for “influenza.”  The name goes back hundreds of years when the disease was thought to be caused by supernatural “influences.” The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs.  It can cause mild to severe illness, and at time can lead to death.

The two basic types of viruses that can cause flu are A and B. Anyone can get the flu as it is spreads easily and college students are particularly vulnerable because of their close living quarters,  social activities and low vaccine coverage.

In fact, only one in five college students reported getting a flu shot during the 2009-2010 flu season at eight North Carolina Universities, according to a study in the Journal of American College Health.

Another study published in the archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine found that college students who have been immunized against the flu were 30 percent less likely to contract an influenza illness and were also less likely to miss class or become unable to complete work because of flu-like illness.

Most experts believe that flu viruses spread mainly by droplets of people with the flu who then cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or nose of people who are nearby. Less often a person might also get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, eyes or possibly their nose.

You can pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick. Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5 to 7 days after becoming sick.

People who have the flu often experience fever, chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches, headaches, fatigue (tiredness), vomiting and diarrhea.

Certain symptoms of the flu may signal an emergency and should be assessed by medical professional.

How does the flu vaccine work? 

When disease germs enter the body, they start to reproduce. The immune system recognizes these germs as foreign invaders and responds by making proteins called antibodies. These antibodies help destroy the germs that are making us sick by eliminating the attacking germs, antibodies help to get well. In addition, antibodies protect the body from future infection.

The single best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu vaccine each year. Minor side effects of the flu shot may occur and may include soreness, redness, or swelling where the shot was given, low-grade fever and aches. There is no scientific evidence that any herbal homeopathic or folk remedies have any benefit against influenza.

However, some people should not be vaccinated without consulting a healthcare provider. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop that will provide protection against the flu.

The CDC and flu experts recommended that just about everyone get a flu vaccination every year and should get it soon as the flu vaccine becomes available. The vaccine will change year-to-year depending on the most common type of influenza that circulated in the previous flu season.

Flu vaccines are offered in many locations including doctor’s office, clinics, health departments, pharmacies, college health centers and more.

For detailed information about the flu shot (influenza vaccine) benefits and risks, review the CDC’s vaccine information statement: www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/vaccine/


Dr. Palgi is a professor in the Department of Physical Education, Recreation & Health.

Everyday prevention actions to stop the spread of germs

• Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze

• Wash your hands often with soap and water or use an alcohol-based rub

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth

• Try to avoid close contact with sick people

• Stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone

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