BY ARIELLE CASTANGA
As the temperature drops and the days get shorter, flu season is upon us. Characteristically marked by the winter months, the flu has claimed between 12,000 and 79,000 lives each year in the U.S. alone since 2010, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Amid this year’s flu season, it can be beneficial to learn about preventive measures that can be taken to avoid getting sick, given the potential life-threatening impacts of the flu, especially on teenagers who have a weaker immune system. Carmel High School nurse Kathleen Lockwood gives tips on how to give yourself the best chance of not catching the flu including her recommendation to get vaccinated.
“To avoid the flu, I recommend three things,” Lockwood says. “One, get your flu shot. Even though it’s probably only about 50 percent effective, it still is some protection. The second thing is to always wash your hands. This is both if you are sick, as to not pass it to people, or if others are sick, as to not pick it up from them. The third thing is keeping your immune system up, which includes eating healthy, getting exercise and sleeping.”
One of the most prevalent methods often used to avoid the flu is vaccination, which was introduced in the 1940s, according to the CDC. For some, the emergence of flu season brings the question of whether to get vaccinated. A common belief regarding the flu vaccine is that it does not work, but M.D. Martha L. Blum disproves this misconception.
“[Some say] the flu vaccine can cause the flu, but this is false,” Blum explains. “Flu vaccines contain dead or weakened flu viruses. These versions of the virus do not cause infection and cannot survive in the body, but they cause the immune system to react and make protective antibodies.”
Blum adds that another common misconception is that the flu vaccine is ineffective. While the level of impact can vary by year, and the flu vaccine does not grant immunity, she explains that it still lessens the impact of the flu.
“From what I learned, vaccines are far more important than people think,” explains CHS senior Lucia Zacek, who last year wrote an in-depth paper on the importance of vaccinations and fallacies in the anti-vax argument. “One of the biggest problems with people not getting vaccinated, even against less ‘dangerous’ illnesses like the flu, is that they put a lot of other people at risk by not getting vaccinated.”
When people opt out of the flu vaccine, it raises the concern for the health and safety of those around them by putting others at risk.
“Others are put at risk of catching the illness when other people don’t get vaccinated,” Zacek says. “This is called herd immunity, and it happens because illnesses spread far easier in unvaccinated populations since they can just jump from person to person.”
While choosing to not get vaccinated can put those around you at risk, a common motivator to not get vaccinated is that it can come with complications.
“I went to Stanford Pediatric in Monterey to get three immunizations, and I ended up getting the optional flu vaccine,” senior Kieren Daste recounts. “I wasn’t really looking into the effects afterwards, but that all aside, once I said yes and got the immunization, the day after I got tell-tale symptoms of the flu. They aren’t as bad, but they were bad enough to keep me home from going to school.”
Vaccine or not, doctors agree that it is crucial to take precautions to ensure the health and safety of oneself and others.