Photo: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention via Wikimedia Commons

If you didn’t take advantage of the free flu shot clinics from the health center on campus, I still recommend finding a way to get vaccinated. The effects of the flu can range from missing a few days of class to taking a trip to the hospital.

With students living in close quarters and overcrowding being so prevalent, we are at an even higher risk of catching the flu. So, read up on all you need to know about the flu.

“We know that getting a flu shot is not like getting the standard vaccines you get when you’re little. It’s not a once-and-done endeavor. Influenza is a virus. You got it once and you can continue to get it again and again.

Students our age are typically not the most at-risk. Catching the flu is not pleasant, but if you’re a young and healthy individual, you’ll most likely be okay. Young children, the elderly and pregnant women are the patients of concern.

Why do I have to get a flu shot every year?

We know that getting a flu shot is not like getting the standard vaccines you get when you’re little. It’s not a once-and-done endeavor. Like the common cold, Influenza is a virus. You got it once and you can continue to get it again and again because — and here’s a little biology lesson, if it’s been a while for you — viruses mutate.

When your immune system has done its job in fighting a virus and your stuffy nose and horrible cough has subsided, you are immune to that particular virus. Well, that same virus can go through a couple of different hosts, change its structure and come back to you — which means that the same virus can make you sick again.

Kind of gross, right? Viruses cannot reproduce without a host. Mutation occurs in acquiring advantageous traits when jumping from host to host. Influenza viruses change year to year,  which is why scientists need to synthesize a new versions of the vaccine every year.

Nearly 80,000 died last year from the flu — the highest death toll in four decades — possibly attributed to those who choose to not get vaccinated.

The Flu

Influenza is a respiratory illness that affects the sinuses and lungs. It spreads through contaminated air and surfaces that have been infected by someone with the flu.

Symptoms can include, but are not limited to muscle aches, high fevers, headaches and standard cold symptoms, like a sore throat and dry cough. Luckily, the flu doesn’t usually require any sort of treatment. Viruses pass through our systems, so it’s usually does not warrant a doctor’s visit; you should be okay just waiting it out in  bed. If you’re experiencing complications, like a fever above 102 degrees or pneumonia, see your primary care physician.

February marks the peak of flu season, so it’s imperative that you get your flu shot before then. National Influenza Vaccination Week is the first week in December — so, there may be some local clinics administering flu shots for free throughout that time.

Sickness spreads like wildfire in an environment like WCU. The last person you want to be is the one who was not only sick, but also infected all of your classmates. So, hurry and get your flu shot, wash your hands often and cover your mouth when you sneeze.

Kirsten Magas is a fourth-year English major with minors in creative writing and journalism. KM867219@wcupa.edu.

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