Reading week, and with it Thanksgiving, is right around the corner. Autumn leaves are starting to fall and it’s finally time to break out a jacket. While September was warmer than usual and the summer seemed to drag on, the reality of the fall season will soon be upon us. Cups of hot tea and scarves indoors may just be a sign of the weather, but it some cases those signs are accompanied by coughs and sniffles. Brock students be come white walkers, trudging to class, infecting everyone they come upon. Brace yourselves: Flu season is coming.
Influenza, more commonly known as the flu, is caused by a number of viruses and presents as the sudden appearance of a high fever — health Canada says a your fever could be 39 degrees and higher — a cough, and muscle aches. Other symptoms may include fatigue, headache, runny nose, sore throat, chills and a loss of appetite. Children may also experience gastrointestinal symptoms along with typical flu symptoms including diarrhea and vomiting.
Everyone is at risk when it comes to the flu, but you can do some things to protect yourself. The first step is getting your flu vaccine which, according to the center for disease control can reduce your risk of contracting the virus by up to 60 per cent.
Next, everyone should be sure to wash their hands. Before and after eating or cooking, after using the washroom, and after touching the surfaces in a public place such as door handles, handrails, or poles on the bus are important times to do so.
How to wash your hands properly:
Wet your hands using clean, running water which may be either warm or cold. Turn off the tap to conserve water. Apply soap to your hands.
Rub your hands together to lather, making sure to get both the front and back of your hands, as well as between your fingers and under your fingernails.
Scrub your hands for 20 seconds or more (sing “Happy Birthday” twice in your head if you need a timer)
Rinse all of the soap off of your hands under clean running water. The water can be warm or cold.
Dry your hands using a dry towel or air dry them using a hand dryer.
If you can’t wash your hands, sanitize your hands using liquid hand sanitizer, following package directions.
People can help stop the spread of the virus by making sure they don’t cough into their hands. Despite what many of us were taught as children, you should not cover your mouth with your hands. You should still cover it though, but instead use the inside of your elbow. Coughing into your hands covers them in the virus. You’ll probably have to touch a couple of surfaces before you have a chance to wash them. Avoid touching your mouth, eyes, or face with your hands if you can.
Another way to help prevent the spread of the virus is to make sure to clean all commonly touched surfaces, like doorknobs, handrails and the handle of the fridge door. Also, make sure to clean and sanitize your cell phone. Phones are one of the most commonly handled objects in our daily lives and while other people may not be touching your phone, you’ve probably put it down on surfaces that other people have sneezed on.
How to sanitize your phone:
Get a small plastic spray bottle (you can get them at the dollar store) and fill it half way with clean water.
Fill the bottle the rest of the way with 70 per cent isopropyl rubbing alcohol.
Lightly spray your phone with the solution. Be careful not to get it too wet if your phone isn’t waterproof. You don’t want to damage it. (If your phone screen has cracks in it, this method not work for you)
Using a small, clean, microfiber cloth, to wipe off the phone completely.
Don’t forget to clean your phone case too! Follow cleaning directions from the manufacturer to avoid damage.
Do you need to go to the doctor when you think you have the flu? In most cases, the answer is no. Health Canada recommends you stay home and rest up until your symptoms go away. If you’re at high risk — people who have underlying health conditions, the elderly, young children, pregnant women — should see a doctor though. Those with more severe symptoms, including difficulty breathing, chest pain, sudden dizziness or confusion, blue or greyish skin tone, bloody mucus, or a high fever that lasts more than three days, Health Canada recommends seeing your doctor.
Another reason to make an appointment with your doctor is to get medical documentation for absences. The best way to stop the spread of the virus is to avoid contact with other people, meaning you have to stay home. Missing classes is usually a last resort, but in an environment like a university, viruses can spread quickly. Let your professors and TAs know you’ll be missing a couple of days and get a doctor’s note so you can avoid being penalized for those missed classes. Try to keep up on your school work while you’re away so you can avoid falling too far behind.
When it comes to treating the flu, there are few effective options. The virus itself cannot be treated, but will work its way out of your system in a week or so. Treatment of symptoms is possible with over the counter flu medicines (though they shouldn’t be given to children under six) and with rest and fluids. Eating a healthy diet and reducing your stress levels can also help.
Is the flu vaccine safe?
When it comes to vaccines, people have a lot of concerns. However, the flu vaccine is important for everyone. Health Canada recommends that every person over the age of six months that does not have any underlying condition that prevents it should get the flu vaccine. The flu vaccine is perfectly safe, according to the government of Canada. Both the Center for Disease Control in the U.S. and Health Canada emphasize that you cannot get the flu from the flu shot.
“Vaccines are made from tiny amounts of dead or weakened germs called microbes. They help your body’s immune system learn how to protect itself against disease by building antibodies and immune memory,” says Health Canada. The CDC notes that on some occasions allergic reactions to the shot itself can occur, some of them life threatening.
“Signs of serious allergic reaction can include breathing problems, hoarseness or wheezing, hives, paleness, weakness, a fast heartbeat, or dizziness. If they do occur, it is within a few minutes to a few hours after the shot. These reactions can occur among persons who are allergic to something that is in the vaccine, such as egg protein or other ingredients,” says the CDC. However, those reactions are rare and the benefits of the flu shot far outway the risks.
“Almost all people who get influenza vaccine have no serious problems from it,” says the CDC on their website. Possible side effects from the vaccine include soreness or swelling at the injection site, low-grade fever and aches. However, most people will have no reaction to the shot whatsoever.
So, you don’t care if you get sick? That doesn’t matter. Everyone eligible should get the flu shot, says Health Canada. That’s because vaccines don’t just protect you. They create what Health Canada refers to as an “immunity community” that prevents other people from getting sick too.
“When most people in a community have been immunized against a disease,” says Health Canada, “the chance of an outbreak of that disease is greatly reduced. This protects people vulnerable to the disease, such as babies too young to be immunized, people undergoing chemotherapy, the elderly, and people who cannot be immunized for medical reasons.”
That means that by protecting yourself, you are protecting people who might get a lot more sick than you if they contracted the virus. In Canada, more than 12,000 people are hospitalized for the flu every year, and there are approximately 3,500 deaths. In the U.S. it is estimated that there were anywhere from 12,000 to 56,000 flu-related deaths in 2010.
Flu prevention at Brock
Last year, Brock’s Health and Safety awareness team and Brock Nursing collaborated on a campaign to bring awareness to the Brock community about getting the flu shot. The campaign included a video and a poster that pointed out just how important it is for people to get vaccinated. According the the video, one in four people will get the flu each season. That adds up to about 4,500 people at Brock that could get sick this year.
“You can be a carrier of the influenza virus and show no symptoms,” says the video. “This means that while you look healthy, you can give other people influenza.” The campaign encourages everyone who is able to get the flu shot, stating that it only takes about 15 minutes to do so. The video also suggests meditation and exercise as a way to reduce stress and improve your immune system.
The flu vaccine is customized every year to respond to which strains of the virus are most prevalent. By the CDC and Health Canada recommend getting your flu shot every year to make sure you can protect yourself and others.
Where to get the flu shot
The flu vaccination takes about two weeks to start working. Getting it as soon as possible is the best way to prevent yourself from getting sick. Vaccines will start to be distributed soon, and full-scale flu prevention campaigns will likely kick off later this month. The CDC is strongly recommending getting a flu shot this year, basing their information on the winter season that just finished up in Australia. Canadians can expect to be able to get their flu shot beginning in the next few weeks. Vaccination clinics are usually held in pharmacies without appointment, or people can make an appointment with their doctor. Brock University usually hosts a flu shot clinic as well. The province of Ontario has a universal influenza immunization program. That means that anyone who lives or works here can get their flu shot for free.