By Marissa Perrella
It’s November, which means that flu season is among us. I’m sure you have seen posters about flu clinics off campus at Shoppers Drug Mart and at Rexall PharmaPlus, or about the flu shots that we offer here at Ryerson University in the Medical Centre, or maybe you have even discussed this controversial topic in class before and still don’t know where you stand on the idea of the flu shot.
We all know (as students) that studying, going to class and generally being productive towards school work becomes extremely difficult when we are sick. When our immune systems are working as hard as they do to kill the virus that is attacking our body, we feel completely drained, exausted, and unwilling to complete our daily responsibilities (such as studying).
In fact, last year about 20% of Ryerson students reported that they either recieved a lower grade on a project or exam or dropped a course due to illness from the flu! Were you part of the 20%? Do you want to avoid being part of that percentage this year?
This blog is going to summarize what you need to know about preventing yourself from getting the flu this season (with or without receiving the vaccine), why this season is going to be predictably worse than others in the past, as well as the true facts vs. myths about the vaccine.
My goal is to clear up any misconceptions about Influenza as well as prepare you all for this winter (because there’s nothing worse than sitting in the MTCC writing your final exam with a headache, the chills, the sniffles and feeling like total garbage from the flu).
Starting with common misconceptions…
|The flu shot can give me the flu.||Incorrect. The flu vaccine is actually made from a dead or inactivated virus, which means that upon entering your body after vaccination, the virus cannot spontaneously come back to life- it’s 100% completely dead.|
|I get sick after receiving the flu shot.||Possible. The flu shot takes about 2 weeks to fully kick in, so even if you received your flu shot on Monday, your body is not immune to the flu by Friday, so yes, you can still contract the flu for about 2 weeks after actually getting the shot.|
|I got the flu shot last year/ previously, so I don’t need to get it this year.||Incorrect. Unlike a lot of vaccines out there, the influenza vaccine only gives immunity for a short period of time (the length of a “flu season” during the cold winter months). So you do need to keep getting it each year.|
|I am healthy, so I don’t need to get the flu shot.||Incorrect. Even though you may not belong to a susceptible population, you may still transmit the flu to a more susceptible person and not even know it because flu symptoms sometimes present as asymptomatic (you don’t know you have it, but you are spreading it to others).|
|Antibiotics can fight the flu, so instead of getting the vaccine I’ll just go to the doctor to get antibiotics if I get sick.||Incorrect. Antibiotics can fight bacterial infections, NOT viral infections (such as infections cause by the Influenza VIRUS). Only your immunity can fight the virus off- which is why the vaccine is great because it helps to build this immunity.|
|The flu isn’t serious, so there’s no point of getting a vaccine that isn’t 100% effective.||Worth discussing. It is true that the vaccine is not 100% effective because there are hundreds of strains of Influenza so one vaccine cannot prevent against them all. HOWEVER, the flu can be very serious and DEADLY for vulnerable populations! In Canada alone, about 8000 people were hospitalized during the 2014-2015 flu season, and about 600 of those people died.|
And moving onto the truths…
|FACTS AND TRUTHS||Explanation|
|The influenza vaccine is not 100% effective.||True. Because there are hundreds of strains of Influenza, the vaccine changes every year and gives immunity for the most common (3-4) strains of Influenza predicted to be most present and serious for that particular year.|
|Everyone 6 months of age or older should get vaccinated each year.||True. Vaccination is particularly important for those who are most at risk or vulnerable, but remains important for those who are not vulnerable in order to help PROTECT the more vulnerable people from contracting the flu.|
|Vaccination may make your symptoms much milder if you do still get sick.||True. The Influenza vaccine works by creating antibodies in the body which will help to provide protection against the viruses that are in the vaccine. If you do still get sick post- immunization, your symptoms may be weaker because of the pre-existing antibodies in your body.|
|The Influenza virus is extremely hardy and can be transmitted very easily.||True. The flu virus can survive on your hands for up to 3 HOURS, and on hard surfaces for up to 8 HOURS! Hand-washing is therefore extremely important (keep in mind, you must scrub your hands with soap and warm water for at least 15-20 seconds).|
|This winter season is going to be worse and more prolonged than previous years.||Likely. This is because the cold weather is predicted to persist longer than previous years, therefore the virus can survive and also persist for longer than normal.|
If after reading this you believe that the flu shot is still not for you and you’re simply not interested in it, that’s fine 🙂 I am going to provide you with some further tips that EVERYONE should be able to use in order to prevent themselves from getting sick from the flu (they’re easy- no excuses here!).
- Hand-washing is KEY! Wash your hands with warm water and soap for AT LEAST 15-20 SECONDS as often as possible.
- Avoid close contact with sick people (duh- and if you are sick, respect this message and STAY HOME! Ask friends for class notes and call in sick to work- everyone around you should greately appreciate this!).
- Keep your hands AWAY from your face. Germs spread because lets face it- all of the surfaces that we touch are filthy and full of microbial life-forms that we can’t see- including the Influenza virus! We touch out faces unconsciously hundreds of times every single day; try to be more cautious of this.
- Avoid foods that weaken the immune system; this includes processed foods, sugars, vegetable oils and refined foods.
- SUPPORT your immune system! Get lots of sleep, avoid stress (easier said than done, I know), get 20 minutes of exercise each day and ensure your diet consists of the right vitamins and minerals that your body needs to stay healthy.
It’s going to be a tough winter, RAMS. Try to do your part by preventing not only yourself from getting the flu, but those who are more at risk than you 🙂