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Health & Wellness

Get your flu shot today

A flu shot is the best preventative medicine against the nasty virus.

Health Matters

It’s back to the books at BU, and as students return to campus with fresh hope for a semester of straight A’s, one thing that could interfere is a bout with the flu. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 5 percent and 20 percent of people in the United States get the flu in an average year. While there is no guaranteed method of preventing the illness, getting a flu shot is the best way, says Dr. Cheryl Barbanel, a School of Medicine associate professor and director of the Occupational Health Center at BU. Although vaccines for students at BU currently are depleted, there are a number of other precautions that should be taken to stay healthy.

Good personal hygiene is fundamental to preventing illness, says Barbanel, who recommends frequent hand-washing with soap and water or an alcohol-based cleanser. It is also important to avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth, as you can spread germs you’ve come in contact with. “Flu viruses usually spread from person to person in respiratory droplets caused by coughing and sneezing, though sometimes people become infected by touching something with flu viruses on it and then touching their mouth or nose,” she says. Some viruses and bacteria can live for two hours or longer on such surfaces as desks and doorknobs.

When possible, avoid close contact with people who are sick, since they can be contagious for up to five days after the illness starts, she cautions. In addition, Barbanel says, it’s possible for healthy adults to pass on the flu to someone else before they even know they’re sick. “Most healthy adults may be able to infect others with the flu beginning one day before they themselves develop symptoms,” she says. If you are exposed to the flu, there are currently two antiviral prescription medications, oseltamivir, and zanamivir, that have been approved to help prevent the illness, says Barbanel.

But if you do develop flu, Barbanel advises getting plenty of rest, drinking a lot of liquids, avoiding the use of alcohol and tobacco, and taking medications such as Tylenol to relieve fever and muscle aches. To keep from spreading your sickness to others, keep your distance, stay home from work and school, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, and contact Student Health Services or your personal physician. 

To prepare for next year’s flu season, Barbanel recommends being vaccinated early. “The flu vaccine does not work right away. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against the influenza virus infection,” she says. “In the meantime, you are still at risk for getting the flu. That’s why it’s better to get vaccinated early in the fall, before the flu season really gets under way.