Flu season is upon us. It’s the time of year where classmates get sick in waves, and everyone seems to know at least one person who’s currently feeling under the weather. But how much do you really know about the flu? Check out these five interesting and important facts about the flu so you know what you’re up against this season.
1. Difference between the flu and a cold
The *CDC defines the flu as “[…] a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs.” So how is does this differ from the common cold? Symptoms of the flu include cough, fever, sore throat, nasal congestion, body aches, headaches, fatigue, and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea. While colds do have several overlapping symptoms, they will usually come in stages, will clear up much more quickly, and be more mild overall. The flu can keep you in bed for days and even weeks, and can lead to more serious complications like pneumonia. If you think you have the flu, it’s important to make an appointment with your school’s health center because sometimes antibiotics will be prescribed.
2. How the flu spreads
The flu is transmitted by droplets when infected people cough, sneeze, and talk. People standing close enough can then unknowingly inhale or ingest these droplets—yuck! Touching a surface someone’s coughed on and then touching your eyes, is another way it might reach you. The flu becomes contagious one day before symptoms even appear, and last five to seven days after being sick.
3. College students and the flu
College campuses are easy targets for the flu. Being in close quarters—sharing dining spaces, restrooms, and classrooms—can make it easy for the flu to spread fairly quickly. Additionally, insufficient sleep can weaken immunities, and college students aren’t exactly known to be a well-rested bunch. With near constant social interactions between class, friends, and activities, interactions with germs are pretty constant too. That’s why college students can be at a greater risk for catching the flu.
4. Flu shots
The CDC recommends getting the flu vaccine as the best way to prevent the flu. Check with your school’s health center to see if they have vaccination dates scheduled, or if they are referring students elsewhere to get their shots. The traditional flu shot protects against three kinds of flu viruses, but there is also a quadrivalent flu vaccine that protects against four. Keep in mind that it will take roughly two weeks after getting vaccinated for the body to development antibodies against the virus.
5. Flu season
People often associate the flu and other sicknesses with the winter, when there seems to be a lot of sniffling and coughing going around. However, flu season actually goes from October to May. So while it may seem late in the winter to be worrying about the flu, know that there’s still plenty of time to catch or prevent it!
So what can you do to prevent getting the dreaded flu? Besides getting a shot, there are several precautionary measures you can take to reduce your risk. It’s important to keep your immunities up, and this means maintaining your overall health. Be sure to exercise, eat nutritious foods, get enough rest (no all-nighters!), wash your hands plenty, and don’t share food or drinks.
*For more information about the flu, visit the CDC’s website.