Despite how common respiratory viruses are, they pose a severe health risk. Never has that been more apparent to the general public than this year, as the U.S.—and the world—continues to reel from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While there is no vaccine available to prevent COVID-19 infection, it is easy to get vaccinated against the four most prevalent influenza strains this flu season.
Even while taking all the recommended precautions to prevent the spread of respiratory viruses, it is still possible to become infected. There is a significant overlap in COVID-19 and influenza symptoms. The difference may only be confirmed through a series of potentially expensive lab tests.
Although being hospitalized with COVID-19 comes with up to five times higher risk of death than being hospitalized with the flu, a flu infection is no walk in the park. A flu infection can lead to pneumonia, sinus infections and even sepsis, all of which may require hospitalization.
Those with chronic health conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, lung or heart disease or HIV/AIDS, are at significantly higher risk of adverse outcomes from flu infection. But even people outside of those risk groups can deal with serious repercussions; students should not feel exempt.
Knowing the burden placed on healthcare providers by the current COVID-19 pandemic, it is critical that we not strain our resources any further with a bad flu season. A vaccine reduces one's risk of contracting influenza by up to 60% and can reduce the severity of symptoms even if one does end up getting sick.
Getting a flu shot is remarkably easy, even if one has no access to health insurance. Some employers cover the cost of a flu shot and, with most health insurance plans, flu shots are free at a doctor's office or chain pharmacies like Walgreens and CVS.
Additionally, Texas State's Student Health Center provides flu shots that are covered by most health insurance plans or cost $25 without insurance—a better price than most chain pharmacies.
Although some people with egg allergies believe they cannot receive flu shots (due to the use of eggs in culturing the vaccine), it depends on the severity of the reaction. Those with minor allergies to eggs should still get a flu shot. Some locations have access to egg-free quadrivalent flu vaccines this season. Only people who have had severe allergic reactions to a flu shot in the past should skip the vaccine.
It is common to feel some pain and swelling near where the shot is given, and even headache and a low fever can occur. Medical assistance should be sought if breathing problems, hives or any other markers of a severe allergic reaction become present.
The flu shot is a convenient way to protect oneself against a potentially dangerous disease, especially when it can be hard to tell a flu infection from COVID-19. Precautions are not guaranteeing immunity but, just like wearing a face mask, they make it harder for a virus or infection to spread; when available, they should be taken advantage of.
To find the nearest flu vaccine provider, go to VaccineFinder.org.
-Toni Mac Crossan is a Biology graduate student
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