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210 people have been hospitalized with the flu in Colorado this year, and flu season is only a quarter of the way done.
This is more than 3 times the amount of people that have been hospitalized for flu last year. This time last year, only 64 people had been hospitalized. The experts are concerned that it will be a severe season. The best thing anyone can do to avoid this possibly deadly disease is get vaccinated.
The cause of these excessive hospitalizations is attributable to several factors like the virulence of the strains this year, but there is one thing people can do about it – get their flu shots. Coverage this year is still low.
There are several reasons people don’t get their flu shots – they don’t see it as important. They don’t think they have time. Or they believe the untrue rumors about the safety of the flu shot.
Let me clarify some of those issues. Flu shots are important. Yes, you do have time; it hardly takes a minute. And the safety of the flu shot has been proven again and again and again.
What is the flu?
Many people understandingly get confused on what exactly flu is. This is because what people refer to as the stomach flu is actually completely a different disease from the real flu. The vomiting stomach bug often called ‘the flu’ or ‘the stomach flu’ isn’t the flu at all. It’s just an unfortunate stomach virus that usually passes on its own in a few days.
The actual flu is short for influenza, a much more serious disease than what people generally think of when they think of the flu. It’s not always characterized by vomiting, which is what people typically associate with the flu. Influenza is much more than that – it’s a high fever, it’s a nasty cough, and it’s whole body pain. It lasts much longer than a stomach bug. The actual influenza virus can last for weeks, and it can be fatal. No student can afford to be on their back for weeks, let alone afford a hospitalization.
There are many different varieties of influenza, and scientists predict the strains we’ll experience each flu season by a strong global surveillance, watching disease movements and trends. Every flu shot includes a vaccination for at least 3 different strains.
Can I get the flu from a flu shot?
A common misbelief is that people can get the flu from the flu shot. This is actually completely impossible. The type of virus contained in a flu shot is either inactive – that is, a dead virus that is incapable of causing disease – or without an actual flu virus at all. It is absolutely impossible for the vaccine to give a person the flu. This has been proven in many studies as well, in case the design of the shots wasn’t enough.
The people who use personal anecdotes of getting sick after the flu shot probably have an entirely different respiratory illness, or they were exposed to the virus beforehand. Viruses take a few days to incubate in the body before symptoms show, so it’s very likely a person who got sick after getting the flu shot had been infected a few days prior.
Some people do have mild reactions to a shot. The most common is just soreness. While the possibility of a severe reaction does exist, it is extremely rare and usually occurs very soon after vaccination, so treatment is accessible.
Why get flu shots?
It’s important to get a flu shot because it protects people from the likely strains of the flu. But it’s important to get them consistently, every single year.
The body produces antibodies to the killed virus in the shot. This produces an immunity that, for a healthy person, can last for years. So once a person has been vaccinated against one strain of the flu, they will be protected against that strain for a long time. There are just a lot of strains of the flu, which is why it’s important to get a flu shot every year.
In my undergrad, I interviewed a doctor about the importance of getting flu shots. He told me a story of the 2008 swine flu pandemic, when the H1N1 strain hospitalized and killed people. Many students were being admitted for the flu every day. But he realized that people who had been vaccinated several years ago weren’t getting sick. He went back and checked the records of the flu from that year, and realized they were protected by the flu shot they got years earlier.
This illustrates why it matters to consistently get a flu shot. It can provide protection not only this year, but sometime down the road as well.
Where can I get a flu shot?
Students with the CSU health insurance can stop by the new medical building and get a free flu shot. Students on any other insurance can get their flu shots for free at most pharmacies and drug stores like Rite Aid and Walgreens. It is easy, nearly painless, and well worth it to protect students against an illness that could put them out of school for two weeks at best, and kill them at worst.
Stop the excuses and go get that flu shot. It might just save your life.
Michelle Fredrickson can be reached at email@example.com or online at @