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By: Sohana Farhin
Different from the common cold, the flu is a common term for the influenza virus, a highly contagious airborne virus that spreads rapidly in cold weather. Catching the flu can cause symptoms such as a high fever, fatigue and muscle aches, which commonly last up to two weeks. In severe cases, it can cause hospitalization and death, particularly for more vulnerable populations, including the elderly. The Public Health Agency of Canada reports that there were 591 deaths due to the flu last year. Despite this, many wonder if it is worth it to get the vaccination.
In simple terms, the flu vaccination is an injection of inactive virus particles into your body, which generates a specific, but mild immune response. This primes your body to respond more effectively when you contact the real virus. But, there is a catch (or two) to it.
Although the flu shot is highly effective against the influenza virus, it does not guarantee protection. The influenza virus is a quickly mutating and evolving virus with many strains. It would be impossible to vaccinate against all strains and as such, the flu shot is a trivalent vaccine, designed to protect from the three major strains of the virus for the current season. As well, your body requires approximately two weeks to effectively generate antibodies to combat the virus. This means that the flu shot won’t be in full effect until two weeks after vaccination.
There has been growing concern and misconception that a preservative called thimerosal, which can often be found in vaccines, is linked to autism. However, studies have conclusively shown that there is no such link between the two, and the initial conclusion was based on scientifically invalid evidence.
Another misconception is that you can get the flu from getting the flu shot. Though some people may feel some mild flu-like symptoms as a result of the antibody response being generated. As a result, it is advised that you are healthy before receiving the flu shot. However, there is no possible chance of acquiring the flu from the vaccination because the virus is inactive.
If you are allergic to eggs, there is a slight chance of having an allergic reaction since the vaccine is cultured in a low amount of egg protein. However, it is possible to request an “egg-free” flu shot. There is also a nasal-spray vaccine for those with a fear of needles!
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommends the flu shot to everybody who is over six months old. From a public health perspective, protecting yourself from the flu, protects more vulnerable people around you, including those who cannot receive the vaccine. Flu shots are available for free in Ontario and McMaster students can get it by booking an appointment with the Student Wellness Centre.
The Student Health Education Centre is here to provide you with information and resources that you need to make a decision about the flu-shot. If you have any more questions, visit us at MUSC 201 and we will be there to provide resources, referrals and support.