Beware of the flu
November 8, 2007 1:22 PM
As students congregate in close quarters on the bus or in classrooms, some are prone to the exposure of the prevalent air-borne pathogen of the autumn and winter season—the influenza virus.
“[Influenza is] really transmitted to people you’re close to,” said Dr. Alastair Smith, director of Student Health Services. “You spread it on your hands or two or three feet away from you.”
Students can reduce their chances of getting the influenza virus—commonly known as the flu—by getting the flu shot or nasal spray vaccine. October and November are the best times to get the flu vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In most cases, the flu is a contagious virus that can cause high fever, headache, fatigue, nausea, sore throat, and runny or stuffy nose, and muscle aches.
According to the CDC, the flu can also lead to bacterial pneumonia, ear and sinus infections, and the worsening of chronic medical conditions.
“It can be lethal. It can kill people,” biology professor Dr. Stan Williams said. “Some flu strains are more serious than others. It can be especially problematic with people with compromised immune systems, elderly people, and young children.”
The CDC reported that 5 to 20 percent of the U.S. population gets the flu, which kills 36,000 Americans every year.
Cinema student Kevin Macias said that while he came down with the flu once, he does not intend to get the $25 flu vaccine this season.
“It’s expensive,” Macias said. “If you can afford [the flu vaccine], go get it. It’s just not my top priority."
Dr. Williams warned that, because of the make-up of the campus, every student should get the vaccine.
“With a campus like ours, with such a high density, if the flu virus were to come into our environment—it will just spread like fire. This is a commuter campus and students go home and then spread it over to other parts of the Bay Area.”
The CDC’s Influenza Division, which studies influenza from October to May of each year, found sporadic influenza activity was already occurring in California and 14 other states, according to Oct. 27, 2007 surveillance report.
Scientists analyze the previous year’s viral strain, and then design the flu vaccine by predicting how the strain may mutate, Williams said. If new strains are introduced this year, “sometimes the vaccine won’t give protection to those other strains,” he said.
There’s no guarantee, Williams said, that scientists can fully predict what strains of influenza attacks each year. “It’s the best prediction, but even if it’s not against every strain, partial protection will be given.”
While the flu vaccine is very effective, some people can still manage to get the flu, according to SHS health educator Albert Angelo.
“The flu shot doesn't cover every strain of the flu so it is possible, but unlikely, to become infected with a stain of the flu not covered by the vaccination,” Angelo said. “It takes time to make flu antibodies so a person could get the flu, even though hours earlier they were vaccinated.”
The flu shot contains an inactive virus and is injected in the arm, whereas the nasal-spray flu vaccine, commonly known as Live Attenuated Influenza Vaccine (LAIV) or FluMist, is an active but weakened virus, according to the CDC.
People allergic to chicken eggs are not advised to get the flu vaccine. Flu vaccine manufacturers delivered 300 doses to the SHS, and there was a mass vaccination during last week’s SHS Haunted Health Fair.
Sophie Karan-Harwin, a child and adolescent development major, initially said did not think she would get the flu vaccine this year—until she remembered a bout of flu she had last year.
“I had the flu last Christmas and missed my family’s Christmas party, so maybe I should [get the flu vaccine],” she said.
While doctors recommend getting the flu vaccine, there are two things that can reduce the chance of getting influenza.
“I would say that it’s very important that people get vaccinated, but the only thing being shown in being most effective in stopping the spread of influenza is regular hand washing and covering your cough,” Smith said. “[That] will reduce the spread because that’s the way it gets transmitted to people who are two or three feet away from you."
Students can get the flu vaccine for $25 during drop-in hours at the Immunization Clinic in SHS on Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and Fridays at 8:30 a.m. to 11:15 a.m.
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