By Maegan Rocio
Believe it or not, a little cough or a sneeze can affect you in the long run.
The Baylor Health Center is gearing up for flu season by offering vaccinations now until Oct. 23. Each vaccination will cost $20. Students’ E-bill accounts will be billed while faculty and staff members will have the cost deducted from their payrolls. Vaccinations can also be paid for up front at one of the eight designated locations on campus.
Sharon Stern, the medical director of the Baylor Health Center, said the locations were chosen based on past large turnouts.
“We have lots and lots of flu vaccine, and we can take several hundred at one time at any of these for a couple of hours,” she said. “These are all for two hours each at the wide variety of locations. We try to hit most of the dorm areas, and we’ve kind of refined it over the years to doing places where we’ve had successful numbers of people show up in the past.”
Stern said getting vaccinated is important because influenza is highly contractible.
“Like a lot of viral respiratory infections it is droplet spread, so you can catch it if someone coughs or sneezes into the air around you,” she said. “But you can also catch it by touching shared surfaces: a book that someone looked at or a desk that someone sat at. It gets on your hands and then you rub your eye or your nose or you eat something, and then you’ve introduced it into yourself.”
People can tell whether they have been infected by the virus or not, Stern said.
“Usually the symptoms of flu start very suddenly, and the main first symptoms are body aches, fever, sometimes a dry cough,” she said.
“Usually within a day or so they’ll have a sore throat, maybe a little of congestion. These are not as sudden in appearance as the fever and body aches. People just suddenly feel quite ill when five minutes ago they felt perfect. That’s one of the hallmarks of influenza.”
Stern said the health center is offering the vaccine because influenza is not a joke.
“It can be quite serious and people die every year from influenza and from secondary infections after they get influenza,” she said. “Thousands of people in the U.S. die every year from it. Mostly elderly, mostly people with health problems, but occasionally it can be a healthy young person that gets it and gets a secondary infection and that’s why the CDC now recommends that everybody from 6 months up, go ahead and get the vaccine.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 3,000 to 49,000 people died from flu-associated issues between 1976 and 2007, a period of 31 flu seasons. During a normal flu season, about 90 percent of people 65 years or older can die from flu-related issues. However, the “seasonal flu season” in the U.S. can start as early as October and last as late as May.
Stern said the “normal” flu season was affected by the sudden swine flu outbreak in 2009.
“That’s what changed everything because that flu was as present in the summer as in the winter the first year it was here,” she said.
Stern also said even though influenza season normally lasts from October to March, the highest outbreak of influenza cases appears every January and February.
“It’s one of the reasons we really talk to the students about planning ahead,” she said. “If you’re going to be in Sing in February, you may want to get your flu shot in September so you’ll be able to be in Sing and not be sick with the flu.”
Stern said students, faculty and staff members can take preventative measures to decrease their risk of being infected.
“It’s important to wash your hands before you touch your face,” she said.
“You don’t want to go crazy and wash your hands 50 times a day, but washing your hands before you touch your eyes or your nose or eat something or put something in your mouth will help to cut down on it. Also getting enough sleep, exercise, eating right, all those things help to keep your immune system healthy, which makes you more resistant to catching the viruses.”
However, Stern said despite the steps people can take to prevent being infected with the flu every year, being infected is still a likely occurrence.
Nancy Keating, the director of nurses at the Baylor Health Center, said students, faculty and staff members only need to sign up to get vaccinated at one of the designated locations on campus.
“We’ll ask a few questions about previous experiences with flu vaccines and make sure there’s no contrary indication,” she said. “And it takes longer to sign in than it does to receive the vaccine. Just a minute or two.”
Stern said the benefits of getting vaccinated will ultimately help.
“It is very quick and easy and it helps build your future immunity too,” she said. “We know that there’s additive immunity for people who get the flu vaccine every year. They have better immunity against catching the flu.”
Echoing Stern’s statement, Keating said, “It’s not too early to take it.”