Weekly check up: Flu shots

The leaves are changing colors, the temperature is dropping and it gets dark at 5 p.m. We all know what that means: winter is on its way, and so is the flu.

But the flu, a respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus, and its painful symptoms such as fever, headaches, muscle aches, cough and nausea, can be avoided with a simple flu shot.

A new flu vaccine is approved every year by U.S. Public Health Service, based on the viral strain that medical professionals determine is most likely to hit that year. Student Health is offering this year’s flu vaccine to any student who wants protection against this season’s bug, said GW’s Student Health Services Outreach Coordinator Susan Haney.

The Student Health flu shot is available through Dec.5, and it’s the best way for students to protect themselves from the virus, especially when outbreaks start occurring in January and February, Haney said. The vaccine costs $25, and can be paid by GWorld, cash, credit and personal check.

“Every year we have 20 to 40 students who come down with the flu. It can get pretty serious, and very uncomfortable,” Haney said. “It could mean missing one or two weeks of classes, and preventing you from getting your work done during the semester.”

The flu spreads through the air and is highly contagious. The most common way to catch the virus is by breathing in droplets from coughs and sneezes, or by touching contaminated surfaces, according to the Georgetown University Hospital Web site. Health professionals recommend washing hands often to reduce the risk of infection.

Haney said people often don’t realize when they are sick with the flu because the virus’s symptoms sometimes mimic cold symptoms. But the flu is not the normal 24-hour bug, and can take anywhere from seven to 10 days to recover from.

Flu symptoms are usually harsher, and are accompanied by high fevers and strong coughs. But the virus, which can be fatal for those who are very young, old or suffer from other health problems, “is rarely life threatening for healthy young adults,” Haney said.

Student Health recommends that members of the GW community get their flu shots from SHS as soon as possible, before their stock of vaccines run out.

Haney said students are particularly vulnerable to the flu thanks to their tight living quarters, and should get vaccinated in the coming weeks. Visit gwired.gwu.edu/shs for Student Health’s flu clinic dates.

“Students live in such close corners in the dorms,” Haney said. “They are more prone to transmit (the flu) once they have it.”

-Nour Hammour and Marissa Levy

“Weekly check up” is a regular feature in the Life section. If you have a health topic you want to know more about, e-mail features@gwhatchet.com.

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