Achooo! Avoiding the flu

By Aida Sadr

Fever, chills, coughs, aches and fatigue… unfortunately for many, these dreaded symptoms of the flu are all too familiar. The highly contagious, virus-induced respiratory disease formally known as Influenza is one of the oldest and most common illnesses.

Every year, large sections of the population are affected by the seasonal flu epidemic. Although commonly mistaken for a cold, the flu can be a deadly disease if complications such as pneumonia arise from it. In fact, according to the Calgary Regional Health Authority, Influenza claims the lives of over 2,000 Canadians each year.

Flu viruses continually modify themselves, enabling them to evade the immune system of their host. Consequently, the only realistic means of dealing with the disease is through prevention and control. A flu shot can reduce people’s chances of contracting the illness.

"Every year, the CDC, the Centre of Disease Control in Atlanta, monitors flu epidemics around the world and makes an early call as to which viruses will most likely affect North America," said University of Calgary professor of Biological Sciences Howard Ceri.

The non-infectious parts of these viruses are then incorporated into a vaccine that will protect 70 per cent of its recipients from catching the flu that year. The vaccinated individuals that do contract the illness experience much milder symptoms.

Although anyone can catch the flu, certain individuals are more likely to be seriously affected by the disease. People over the age of 65, residents of chronic care facilities and those with a chronic health condition are considered to be in high-risk groups. The CRHA recommends these individuals and those working with them receive their yearly Influenza vaccination. They also warn that people who are severely allergic to eggs should not get a flu shot since the vaccine contains a small amount of egg protein.

Anyone wishing to avoid the flu this season can get vaccinated by a doctor or public health nurse. University Health Services is currently offering the flu vaccine on a walk-in basis. The fee is $10, although individuals belonging to a high-risk category will receive the vaccine for free. UHS is also holding a flu vaccine clinic on Oct. 19 from 4:30-6:30 p.m.

Dr. Lois Milne, the Senior Physician at UHS, warns students that despite popular belief, the flu vaccine does not prevent the common cold. She also recommends proper hand-washing and minimizing contact with those experiencing flu symptoms in order to prevent the spread of the disease.

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