As winter approaches, students everywhere are encouraged to get an updated flu vaccine. But why is it so important to be vaccinated? The flu, or influenza, is a common respiratory illness caused by viruses, which means there are no antibiotics to cure it. Although it is a fairly mild illness, some can die or become hospitalized. Every year, scientists create a new form of the vaccine to target any mutations that occurred in the virus over the past year. Flu season starts approximately in October and continues until February, but in some instances, cases of flu have been found in May.
There are three main types of Influenza; A, B, and C. Influenza belongs to a family of viruses, Orthomyxoviridae. These viruses are normally very small, 80-120 nm in diameter and are spherical in shape. The genome of this virus is fairly simple compared to humans as it has eight, single stranded RNA. These strands total from 890 to 2340 nucleotides, which is vastly smaller than the genome of humans. Viruses, like the flu, need living cells in order to replicate, because they use their organelles. The virus is enclosed by a lipid membrane with proteins on the surface. Different numbers of the proteins, Haemagglutinin (H) and Neuraminidase (N), code for different strains of the flu. For example, H1N1, the common swine flu, has one Haemagglutinin and one Neuraminidase.
Influenza is generally spread by contact with an infected person that coughs, laughs, or talks and produces droplets of infectious viruses. This is easily avoidable by staying away from anyone infected and wiping down surfaces. It can also spread by touching a surface that have the virus and then touching your own nose or mouth.
Although it is fairly easy to avoid, people may still get the virus, but symptoms don’t appear until the first day, but they won’t get completely sick until the fifth to seventh day. Common symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, stuffy nose, body aches, headaches, and vomiting. Generally, the flu can’t be treated with antibiotics, so it will just go away within two weeks.
There are two different types of flu vaccines available to the general public; the trivalent and the quadrivalent. As the name suggests, the trivalent protects against three different strains, two influenza A and an influenza B virus, while the quadrivalent protects against four different strains, two influenza A and two influenza B viruses. The most common form of delivering the vaccine is a standard dose, intramuscular shot which can be used for anyone six months and older. However, for the trivalent strain, there are multiple other ways such as the nasal spray, and the intradermal shot. People with asthma, however, can not use the nasal spray, because it creates a heightened risk of an asthma attack. Quadrivalent shots are generally more expensive and rare, as the trivalent is the more common and widely accepted.
This illness has a vast impact on this society, as thousands of people get it every year. Since the tendency for mutations to occur in the virus is so high, new vaccines must be made every year to protect against the new seasonal flu. Although medication exists to reduce symptoms, there is no cure to the flu, other than waiting for the body’s natural defenses to kill the virus. So what are you waiting for? Go get that vaccine!