The Flu Shot Myths and Guidance for Dorms
Influenza or “flu” is a dangerous, highly contagious virus that can cause high fevers, fatigue, achy muscles, chills, sweats, and headaches. The last flu season (2018-2019) was the longest in 21 years. According to the CDC, millions of people were hospitalized, and 61,000 people died in the US alone. To avoid this debilitating illness, we recommend getting the flu shot.
The flu shot is a vaccine with weakened antibodies that stimulate normal immunity processes and protect people from the flu. The formulation changes every year and is different in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. Several of the most seasonally infectious types of flu are in every vaccine.
Here are 4 common myths (or misconceptions) and facts about the flu shot:
- “It might not work” – some people get the flu shot but still get the flu, and they claim that the vaccine didn't help them at all. This is a common misconception because the flu shot gives people antibodies to protect them from the flu. If you get the flu afterward, your body has the antibodies to help your body fight the disease faster and better. After getting a flu shot, the average illness for sick people is a few days long and with mild symptoms (as opposed to up to 2 weeks with flu and severe symptoms. Also, consider that flu symptoms take 1-4 days to appear after being exposed to it. People who get sick within a day of the flu shot were exposed before they were vaccinated!
- “I’m healthy, and I don’t need the shot” – many people claim that they have never had the flu and, therefore, they are safe. They may not have gotten the flu shot last year and were fine. No one ever knows whether or not they will get the flu, and people who never had the flu or vaccines have no immunity and potentially worse cases than people who have been vaccinated. Additionally, as life situations change, your exposures to illnesses may change. For example, certain populations are at a higher risk for flu complications – such as young children, adults with chronic illnesses, elderly, and pregnant women.
- "I got the flu vaccine last year" – there is a false notion that if you get the flu shot, then you don’t need other flu shots, like other types of vaccines for measles, tetanus, etc. This is incorrect because, unlike most vaccine-preventable contagious illnesses, the flu virus is continually mutating, so the vaccine must be updated every year for both hemispheres. The flu vaccine from last year won't be effective for the flu this year. Sometimes flu strains can re-emerge, such as H1N1 (swine flu) that caused a major pandemic in 2009, which is why this virulent strain remains in flu shots – to boost people's immunity continually. Once you have had the flu, you are naturally immune to that particular flu strain only, but not to others.
- “There are drugs to treat the flu”- Although there are antiviral medications that can ease symptoms and speed recovery, they aren't the first line of defense, according to the CDC. These drugs are only effective if started within 24 hours of symptoms starting. We have seen students start taking medicine from home before even getting a diagnosis, and oftentimes they were taking the anti-viral medication for common colds and not the flu! Getting immunized is the best way to protect yourself against the virus.
- “I am cautious around sick people” - People are often contagious before they get symptoms, so flu spreads even when people are careful. Short of living in a bubble, you will not be able to protect yourself from people who are not sick yet! Of course, EMA Care recommends being careful around sick people (see guidelines below), but that is not enough to prevent you from catching the flu.
Guidance for students living in dorms
Students living in dorms usually catch illnesses from their dormmates or fellow students because they live in smaller, more crowded spaces. Preventing the spread of illness for anyone includes:
- Always wash your hands after being near a sick person and before and after eating.
- Use precautions with exposure to saliva from sick people. This includes avoiding drinking from the same cup, eating with common utensils, and sharing lip balm.
- Flu is spread through airborne droplets, which are often invisible to the naked eye. These are spread for up to 6 feet (2 meters) through talking, singing, coughing, sneezing, and even breathing. So, keep your distance from people with the flu.
- Prevent your friends from getting sick. If you are sick – sneeze and cough into your sleeve, not into the air.
- If you're sick – wash your hands often.
- Keep common areas clean. This includes door handles, sink faucets, soap dispensers (pumped with unclean hands), bathrooms, and kitchen surfaces.
Flu shot registration is currently open for Israel Gap Year Students. Register here to reserve a flu shot!
From everyone at EMA Care, we hope you have a healthy winter!!