The flu can be one of the most dangerous health conditions on a college campus because of the close proximity of people, but only 10 percent of college students received a flu vaccine in 2009, according to a study done at the University at Buffalo.
The study said this is mostly a result of students’ lack of knowledge about the flu itself and what vaccines prevent it. Now that flu season is upon us, there are some important facts to know about this year’s vaccine.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that anyone over the age of 6 months get an annual flu vaccine. The vaccine, however, does not protect against all strains of influenza. Three strains are included in this year’s vaccine: the influenza A H1N1 virus, also known as swine flu, the influenza A H3N2 virus and the influenza B virus. These strains were chosen based on what global surveillance determined to be most likely to circulate this season. The effectiveness of last year’s vaccine was about 60 percent.
The influenza A H3N2 and influenza B virus were not included in last year’s vaccine. There are three types of influenza: A, B and C. Type A is most common and usually found in humans and animals. Type B mutates at a rate twice as slow as type A. Type B and C are mostly found in humans. Among type A there are eight influenza strains you are not protected against with this year’s vaccine, and it does not protect against the influenza C virus.
There are problems with the selected strains the vaccine targets. Viruses can chemically change over time, and a person’s body may not produce a response fast enough. When someone receives a vaccine, it tells the body to build antibodies against certain virus strains — if people come in contact with that virus, their bodies are prepared to get rid of it.
However, it takes the vaccine up to two weeks to build antibodies against the virus, so if anyone is exposed to the flu less than two weeks after getting the vaccination, they can become infected.
Flu vaccines lose their effectiveness over time. People can be at risk of the flu if it’s been more than a year since their last vaccination.
In some cases, the body doesn’t build enough antibodies or is overwhelmed with high levels of exposure to the virus. This is most common in people with a weakened immune system, which leads to possible contamination.
The CDC says people with asthma, diabetes, chronic lung disease, who are pregnant or over the age of 65 are at highest risk for the flu.
Flu vaccines may have some downfalls, but experts still recommend having an annual vaccine. A vaccine is not only the best way to reduce the chances of getting the seasonal flu, but it also reduces the chance that it will spread to others.
The Ithaca College health center provides flu vaccine clinics and appointments throughout the semester. For more information contact the Hammond Health Center at 274-3177 or find out more online at www.ithaca.edu/sacl/healthcenter.