The cold, hard facts about flu shots

‘Tis the season for giving. That includes viruses, infections and other undesirables that most would rather not have on their wish list.

The spread of influenza, or the flu, is an annual tradition.

While this season has yet to garner catchy nicknames of yesteryear, the common flu doesn’t need avian or swine support to stop people dead in their tracks.

Up to 8,000 Canadians die a year from the disease. Despite this many people are skeptical about the vaccine or “flu shot.”

“A lot of people are misinformed,” said student health clinic nurse Gwen Ferguson. “Even more people don’t know anything about it.”

Because of the lack of information, the yearly needle has polarized people in their decision to get the vaccine or not. In response, the University of New Brunswick and St. Thomas University have hosted eight immunization clinics this year to educate students about the process.

The shot gives a person an inactive or dead version of the actual flu virus – or in Canada’s case, the shot includes many strains of flu viruses scientists predict will affect the population.

This toothless version of the flu allows your body to learn how to defend against it; a cheat sheet for your immune system before the actual test. The human body needs two weeks to learn those test answers before being ready to fully protect against those flu strains.

Getting the flu before the vaccine is working at full strength means the flu shot will be useless to defend a person. This leads to the common misconception that the cure caused the disease.

However, even after two full weeks of getting the flu shot, a person is not guaranteed immunity.

Influenza viruses adapt quickly, changing from year-to-year and place-to-place. Scientists can only guess as to which strains are going to be popular and their best guesses go into the needle that eventually goes into your shoulder.

If you catch a strain that wasn’t predicted ahead of time, you’re just as vulnerable as if you hadn’t had the shot at all.

The flu shot also does nothing to prevent the common cold. Colds, especially bad ones, are often mislabelled as influenza and getting one after a flu shot can lead to the belief that the shot gave the sickness instead of preventing it.

While they share some commonalities, the flu is a much more severe disease and much more aggressive. Once the flu infects a person, it’s ready to infect another a full day before that person will have any symptoms to reveal that they even have the flu virus. This makes pre-emptive vaccines the only useful defence against the flu.

The ease of transmission, or giving away the flu, is what makes it most dangerous. By land or air, take your pick. A single floating droplet from a sneeze is enough to infect a person.

And the virus can live on everything the human hand touches, from money to doorknobs. A single flu virus could realistically infect an entire classroom of people in a single afternoon. When describing its spread in an open population of people, the word “exponentially” gets used a lot.

That brings us to “carriers.”

While a person may not always become overly sick when having the flu virus, carrying it in their bodies means they’re spreading it, perhaps to those who are not able to combat the sickness so well.

Infants and seniors are especially vulnerable due to their weaker immune systems. Because these populations make up the majority of flu-related deaths in Canada, the government pays for their flu shots.

Health officials don’t recommend those with the flu have any contact with infants or seniors.

“The potential of passing the flu to those people can be absolutely devastating,” said Ferguson.

Flu shots are available on campus to STU and UNB students for $15 at the C.C. Jones student health clinic.

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