Health Class: Influenza

Julianna French

Fever, cough, sore throat, fatigue, and more. These are the symptoms people all around the country are currently suffering from due to the influenza, or flu, outbreak. The flu is an upper respiratory illness that, on top of laying you out flat, can lead to death. Now that the long, slow march of January is finally over, our immune systems are shot after battling the cold for so long. We still have months of winter to go and we can’t afford to let ourselves be taken down by the flu. We must fight this beast of an illness with knowledge of how it works.

The flu is caused by viruses that infect the lungs, nose, and throat. A virus works by attacking our cells and turning them into incubators that pump out more of the virus. Since your cells are too busy pumping out unwanted viruses, it can’t perform its normal functions making you feel sick and run down. According to Vincent Racaniello Ph.D, Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at Columbia University, there are three ways to spread the flu virus.

If you come into direct contact with an infected individual, touch a contaminated object, and/or breathe in aerosols that are virus-laden, you’ll most likely become sick. For those of us who live on campus, our chances of getting sick are higher than Snoop Dogg due to increased probability of contact with an infected person. In order to decrease your chances of becoming sick you could always avoid people by hiding in your closet until winter is over, or you could listen to the advice given by the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

The CDC suggests some easy preventative actions you can take that help slow the spread of germs. If you have a cough or feel a sneeze coming on, cover your mouth to prevent germs from being sprayed into the air where others could breathe them in. Covering your mouth doesn’t mean using your hands, it means using a hanky or your elbow. Make sure to wash your hands frequently with warm water and soap too! It’ll help by killing disease causing germs and viruses on your hands before they can either infect you or those around you. The most important step in preventing the flu is getting the flu vaccine.

The flu vaccine is administered via shot, which is available for free on campus every year. In case you’re a little wary about being shot with some vaccine, here’s some information from the U.S Department of Health and Human Services. First of all, the flu vaccine is safe to take, though it is possible that some may suffer from side effects. There can be mild side effects such as soreness at the injection site, nausea, and/or a low grade fever. There can also be more serious side effects such as hives, high fever, and difficulty breathing (if you experience these please seek medical attention). While you may feel like you’re sick, you don’t actually get sick from the flu vaccine. The vaccine contains a version of the flu virus that is unable to infect cells. Your immune system notices this foreign body and creates antibodies that protect against it. What this means is that your body now has an increased number of body guards within it that will protect you if you come in contact with an active flu virus.

We’ve made it through the worst of winter, now we must fight to stay healthy until the day we can feel the sun on our faces again. Until next time, class is dismissed.