What do I need to know about Influenza?
- Every year, 1 in 4 college students gets the flu.
- The flu can be caused by more than one type of viral strain.
- The flu vaccine has about 80% effectiveness in flu prevention when given as an injection, and about 60% effectiveness when given as intranasal spray.
- The flu vaccine is effective about 2 weeks after it is received.
- The flu vaccine is a mixture of two type A influenza viruses and one type B virus. Type A viruses are good at mutating, making it tricky to devise the right vaccine mix from year to year. Type C viruses are not included in the vaccine, as they are do not cause significant illness.
- The vaccine mixture is developed on the basis of what strains were predominant in the Southern Hemisphere during their winter.
Who should get the flu vaccine?Everyone should be vaccinated (unless there is an allergy to eggs or has been a serious reaction to the vaccine in the past). When more people are immunized and protected from illness, there is less illness to spread around, especially to those who are not immunized (known as “herd immunity”).
What if I’m afraid of shots?
There is a nasal spray version of the vaccine that can be used for anyone (except those who are allergic to eggs, have asthma, or are immunocompromised).
I’ve heard that you can get the flu from the flu vaccine…
Unfortunately, this is a popular and enduring myth. The flu vaccine given by injection is a “killed vaccine”, meaning the particles will stimulate your immune system to make antibodies, but cannot cause illness. The nasal spray vaccine does contain live virus, but it is modified in a way that prevents illness from the vaccine.
What are the symptoms of flu?
The symptoms of flu usually hit like a lightning bolt:
- High fever
- Chest discomfort
What should I do if I think that I have the flu?
Definitely, anyone who thinks that they have the flu should be evaluated. This is not only because there are other illnesses that can cause similar symptoms, but also because there is antiviral medicine that can be offered if influenza is diagnosed. The antiviral medicines (oseltamivir and zanamivir) can shorten the duration and severity of illness by 1 to 3 days if started within 48 hours of diagnosis.
How long will I be sick?
On average, symptoms can last a week.
Am I contagious?
Yes! Very! The incubation period is 1-4 days, and adults are infectious from one day prior to symptom development to 5 or more days afterward. The period of greatest contagion is the first 3 days. Please stay out of classes for at least 48 hours to limit contagion.
How is the virus spread?
Respiratory droplets that are released when you cough or sneeze contain viral particles that can be transmitted to others. In addition, virus particles on your hands can be spread to other individuals. The best way to prevent transmission is to wash your hands frequently, cover your cough with your arm, and use disposable tissues.
What else should I do if I have the flu?
Rest, drink lots of fluids, and treat the symptoms with ibuprofen or acetaminophen, pseudoephedrine for congestion, and dextromethorphan for cough. Again, be seen by a medical provider if symptoms are not manageable, or if they are not improving after several days.
What about people who didn’t get the vaccine?
Unvaccinated individuals who are in close contact with a flu-infected person can get antiviral medicine to help prevent them from that particular exposure, if they start treatment within 2 days of exposure.