January 31, 2003

Gannett Educates C.U. On Flu Vaccines, Risks

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It’s flu season, which signifies the return of the frosty cold air, the sneezing and the wheezing. Cornellians everywhere are bundled up and ready to take on the winter. Gannett: Cornell University Health Services has reported only several cases of influenza so far, but it is important to know the chances of contracting the flu and what can be done to avoid it.

Influenza is a viral infection categorized by bodily aches, pains and high fever. It is commonly accompanied by cold-like symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, runny nose and other upper respiratory symptoms. Consequently, it is easily confused with the common cold. The flu, however, is much more serious and any changes in consciousness, high fever for consecutive days and development of a rash could be a sign of the flu.

“Every year, the Centers for Disease Control looks at what happens with the flu around the world. When they [predict] what strains are most likely to develop, they create a vaccine for that strain,” said Sharon Dittman, associate director of community relations at Gannett. The influenza strains vary from year to year, which is why people must get the vaccine before every flu season.

The vaccine is made with the dead influenza virus, and although some people believe that the flu shot actually causes the flu, this is not true. Flu-like symptoms may occur for a few days after receiving the vaccine, but these symptoms usually go away. The primary side effects are soreness, swelling at the area of the shot and in some cases, a brief, low fever.

People with allergies to eggs or hypersensitivity to the vaccine from a previous experience should not get the vaccine since it could cause more serious side effects. These people should consult their physicians or the health professionals at Gannett before receiving an influenza vaccination, Dittman said.

“People who live in close quarters like dormitories, residence halls and sorority and fraternity houses are more vulnerable of catching the flu because of the close living conditions,” she added. “But it also depends on the person’s immune system. I encourage people to get [the vaccine].”

Others who are more at risk of catching influenza this season are people with chronic illnesses, the elderly and those with a compromised immune system.

“People can protect themselves by getting a flu shot, washing their hands frequently, drinking fluids and staying away from people who have the flu,” said Gail Brown, a nurse at Gannett.

Although relatively few cases have been reported to Gannett so far, the height of flu season is in February and dies down around March.

“Anybody who wants to reduce the risk of catching the flu [should get the shot],” Dittman said.

Archived article by Mary Chu