The flu season makes everyone a little nervous. Friends become cagey and skeptical when around one another, not wanting to share drinks or make physical contact. Surface area contact with door handles is minimized. Hands become chapped and dry from over-scrubbing. A small sneeze becomes suspect; a scratchy throat must signal the beginning of the end. And if it is even thought that a fever is coming on, it’s reason to resort to getting to bed at 7 p.m., just to be safe.
It’s hard to blame us for over-analyzing our bodies and fearing the flu. The media has a tendency to sensationalize the flu through death tolls and descriptions of the annual virus as some sort of never-before-seen outbreak.
Thankfully, a number of techniques exist to help avoid the flu.
“People tend to stock up on Vitamin C, Zinc and Airborne before the season starts. While these help, the vaccination is the best way to prevent getting the flu,” said Rite Aid Pharmacy Manager Rami Saad.
Demand for the vaccine has been high for the Russell Boulevard location in the last few weeks since the return of students from winter break. Because appointments are not required to receive the vaccine, it’s hard to project how many will want to take the shot.
“We actually ran out at one point,” Saad said. “With the recent outbreak and media attention, I’ve already hit and overcome my target number for vaccines by over 100, and it’s not even the end of the flu season yet. We ordered another shipment and are restocked and ready for walk-ins.”
It’s not surprising that the return of students was correlated to the spike in demand. The chances of becoming exposed to the the flu at Davis at some point are extremely high. Most live in dorms, apartments or homes with multiple people only to sit in classrooms with thousands of other students each day. It’s important to take every precaution possible.
“I recommend that everyone gets [the vaccine]. It’s protection. I vaccinated my whole family. It takes 15 minutes. Why not?” Saad said.
Many students share Saad’s sentiments.
“I don’t want to get sick, and I know [the vaccine] is an important part of preventing that. I mean, it doesn’t hurt, it’s an easy thing to do,” said Elizabeth Aleman, a fourth-year psychology major.
Because the virus evolves, the vaccine must be updated each year. While some areas offer an inhaled vaccine, the most common method of delivery is a shot, which, for some, is reason enough to forgo the extra protection.
“I haven’t gotten the vaccine because I’m scared of being vaccinated. I don’t like getting poked with needles,” said Beatriz Aguilar, a graduate research lab assistant at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.
Others avoid the yearly injection because of the cost, their busy schedules or doubt about the protection it provides.
“I didn’t get vaccinated. I’m bad about it … it’s not my number-one priority. I feel like the vaccine is only halfway effective anyway,” said Kaitlyn Koeneke, a fourth-year animal science major.
According to early data from the Jan. 11 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, those who have taken the vaccine have had their risk of going to the doctor for the flu reduced by 60 percent.
The vaccine’s effectiveness, according the the Center for Disease Control, depends on how similar a particular flu strain affecting an area is to the strains contained in the vaccine. Additionally, for those who have taken the plunge only to come up sick a day later, the CDC also notes that the vaccine needs two weeks to help produce enough antibodies to work effectively. Furthermore, it only protects against the flu and not other, similar viruses that spread during the flu’s October-February season.
Because not everyone has the opportunity or desire to get the vaccine, clearly there is more to surviving the season than a shot in the arm.
Some turn to extreme methods, such as quarantining themselves completely from others.
“What I try and do is avoid people who are sick like the plague,” said Cary Westendorf, a third-year chemistry major.
Others take a more traditional approach.
“Honestly, sleep makes a big difference in avoiding getting sick. I shoot for at least six hours a night,” Koeneke said.
If all else fails, and you do start to feel under the weather, there is still hope to be found in over-the-counter medications. Acetaminophen, ibuprofen and DayQuil knock out the muscle aches, fever, fatigue, cough and congestion that accompany the flu. However, the flu can become life-threatening if it develops into a more serious condition such as pneumonia.
“It’s time to see a doctor and get an antiviral medication when symptoms turn to severe all-over muscle aching, sweating and a fever that doesn’t go away,” Saad said.
With California’s flu status being raised to widespread by the CDC as of early January, it’s time to make whatever plans necessary to avoid the flu. Vaccines are available at most pharmacies, hospitals and UC Davis Student Health and Counseling Services. If you are a student who is already sick and suspects that it could be the flu, call the SHS Advice Nurse at (530) 752-2349.
HANNAH KRAMER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.