Fever, sore throat,headaches, muscle aches, congestion, and a cough? Why not throw in some vomiting and diarrhea to top it off. In case you’re wondering what horrible illness causes these symptoms, it’s the flu.Thankfully, a vaccine is readily available to protect us from this unpleasant and potentially deadly virus. As a busy student with no time to waste on being sick, I was one of the first in line to receive it at my local pharmacy back in early November.
Over the past week, health officials have noted an increase of a particularly virulent form of the flu, known as H1N1. In fact, CBC reported that 90 per cent of this year’s flu cases in Quebec have been caused by H1N1, which translates into 960 cases, 300 of which required hospitalization. Furthermore, Global News reported the deaths of one Quebecer, two Torontonians, two Nova Scotians, and ten Albertans.
Perhaps most alarming is that H1N1 is often found in individuals under 25 years of age and causes particularly severe symptoms and complications, such as rapidly-progressing and life-threatening pneumonia. According to the World Health Organization, when compared to the seasonal flu, a higher number of H1N1 deaths occurred in previously healthy individuals.
Gabriella Szabo, a Health Promotion Specialist at Concordia University Health Services, believes that the flu vaccination is a good idea for Concordia students.
“University students are particularly at risk to catch H1N1 because they are in close and constant contact with each other, whether in class, in the elevators, or in the metro,” she said.
Getting the flu shot also helps students avoid missing classes and being forced to play catch up while keeping up with new material.
“With the flu, you’re likely to be in bed for a week, followed by lingering fatigue for two to three weeks. This is enough to force a student to drop all their classes for the semester,” Szabo said.
Immunization is also a question of social responsibility towards people who are especially vulnerable, such as the young or elderly, as well as some classmates. This is where the idea of herd immunity plays a role; getting vaccinated in order to prevent an outbreak or spread of a virus that can affect those who are more susceptible to illness.
“We have students battling various health conditions such as cancer or HIV, making them especially at risk to catch the flu and to suffer serious complications from it; our duty is to minimize their risk of exposure,” Szabo said.
While Szabo acknowledged that the vaccine is not 100 per cent effective, she pointed out that it is meant to fill in the gaps left by the absence of good hygiene practices, such as frequent hand-washing. However, in the event that a vaccinated individual catches the flu, their stronger immune response will result in milder symptoms and a lower risk of complications.
“It’s not too late to get the shot, as the peak of the flu season hasn’t arrived yet. Students can call us starting Jan. 22 to book an appointment, or they can call their local CLSC anytime,” Szabo said.
The vaccine is free for people who are deemed at risk due to age or health status, as well as for those in close contact with them. For students who do not fit in any of these categories, the Concordia Health and Dental Plan covers 80 per cent of the cost of the shot ($20 at Concordia Health Services.)
When considering the potentially disastrous consequences of this not-so-benign illness, it is safe to say that the $4 copay is change well spent.