He still remembers his first flu shot. The nurses pinned down his limbs so he would not knock the needle from the doctor’s hands.
“It’s going to be ok,” the doctor said, trying to comfort the boy. But it would never be ok. “I’m still afraid of needles,” confesses senior English major Nicholas Martin.
While some students fear the injection, others feel invincible to the flu. Senior mechanical engineer Ramon Medina has never had the flu shot and does not plan to start now. “I have never had the flu before, so I don’t want to jeopardize my streak,” he jokes.
On a serious note, one of the most common reasons that people do not get the flu vaccine is because they have never had the flu. Alonzo Guzman, M.D. staff physician for UTSA’s health services, warns that “it only takes one time to get the flu-and you’ll never forget it.” In extreme cases, people experience cephalitis, pneumonia, both respiratory and multi-organ failure and death.
“Unfortunately,” Guzman says, “people don’t realize that worldwide, there are at least 250,000 influenza-related deaths.” In order to protect yourself against the flu, Guzman recommends to get the yearly flu shot.
Why every year? Guzman explains that the flu is a virus; therefore, it changes slightly every year. The virus goes into “survival mode” to bypass immune system defenses and environmental conditions. The vaccine from last year may not help this year.
Guzman uses an analogy to explain the mutation. “If you change your coat, you change your appearance. And I may not recognize you. The same applies to our bodies. If the virus mutates, our bodies won’t recognize it (and our bodies will have a hard time fighting the flu with the previous year’s vaccine).”
So how do scientists create the new vaccine? After research, scientists identify three antigens from three former strains of the flu. The following strains are found in the 2012 flu vaccine: A/California/7/2009 (H1N1)-like virus, A/Victoria/361/2011 (H3N2) -like virus, and B/Wisconsin/1/2010-like virus.
Although the injection introduces the body to the virus, Guzman reassures that one cannot develop the flu from the injection.
“The vaccine contains killed viruses, there are no live viruses,” Guzman says. Therefore, with no live virus in the body, the flu cannot develop. If anyone contracts the flu shortly after the injection, Guzman suggests that they may have contracted the illness from someone else.
Flu-like symptoms, however, may occur after the shot. A headache, body ache, fever or cough are just a few of the side effects from the injection. “Other vaccines also produce similar side effects.” Guzman argues
Could death also be a side effect? “It’s rare,” Guzman begins, “but the only deaths usually result from people who are allergic to chicken eggs.” He explained that chicken eggs are also used to make the flu vaccine. Guzman has been giving the shot for years and assures that mild side effects are the most common response to the flu.
In order to prepare for the flu, Guzman cautions college students to minimize partying, alcohol and tobacco intake and stress. “(Those activities) weaken the immune system,” Guzman warns. He recommends a healthful diet and the yearly flu shot to strengthen the immune system.
UTSA Student Health Services has flu vaccinations available at the main campus and downtown campus by appointment Mon.-Fri. from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. The cost is $10 for students and $15 for staff. Walgreens and medical clinics also offer flu shots during this season.