Fall brings more than cooler weather and falling leaves. It also comes with cold sweats, fevers, and the aches and pains associated with the influenza.
Diseases can spread quickly across college campuses, according to Ted Ross, director of the Center for Vaccines and Immunology and professor of infectious diseases at the University of Georgia.
In areas of high population where people live in close quarters, the odds of contracting the illness are especially high, Ross said. With students residing in dorms and constantly interacting with new people around campus, the risk of spreading germs “can be pretty severe for college students once it finally hits.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describe the flu as a “contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat and sometimes the lungs.” Its symptoms can include fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, body aches, headaches, fatigue and vomiting.
Ross said while people with a common cold can still go to school or work, the flu “keeps you in bed.”
Flu season officially began on October and runs until May, but peak season does not strike until December. Ross credits this to the holiday season when traveling and interaction with new people put stress on the body in a way that makes people susceptible to illness. The easiest way to prevent this from happening is to act proactively by receiving a vaccine, Ross said.
“Even though the effectiveness of the current flu vaccine varies from season to season based upon how well it's matched to the circulating strains, having even partial immunity reduces the ability to transmit those flu viruses to your neighbors, your family, your kids, your parents,” Ross said.
In order to combat potential spread, the university is encouraging vaccination. UGA’s Clinical and Translational Research Unit is providing free flu shots to people who are willing to participate in a study. Led by Ross, the project’s goal is to develop a new flu vaccine that protects against multiple strains of the virus in a single dose. Researchers will study how the body’s immune system responds to the flu vaccine in relation to an individual's characteristics and experiences.
“If people enroll in the study, they can participate to help us understand how the current flu vaccine works in different populations of people,” Ross said.
Participants will receive the flu shot for free and over the course of three to five visits, provide blood and urine samples. After completing two questionnaires, they have the chance to earn $90-$150 by participating in the study.
#FluGA, a program at the UGA University Health Center, offers flu shots at the UHC and at mobile locations across campus. Students, student spouses, retired faculty, current faculty, staff and their dependents 13 years old and older can get a flu shot during walk-ins at the UHC until Nov. 1, according to the UHC website.
Appointments can also be made, and flu shots through #FluGA cost different amounts depending on insurance status. If uninsured, the shots are $50.
The Complex Carbohydrate Research Center and Rooker Hall will host the next #FluGA mobile clinics on Oct. 14 and Oct. 15, respectively. Other mobile clinic locations and dates through Nov. 6 can be found here.
Businesses in Athens are also providing options to receive a flu shot. Horton’s Drug Store is offering flu vaccinations at a discounted rate to employees of downtown businesses. Horton’s normally offers the flu shot for $39.99, according to Horton’s pharmacist Molly Coletti. People who work downtown can receive the vaccine for $29.99.
Coletti said people have just started coming in for the vaccination. She said while often times people wait until the weather gets colder, “it takes up to two weeks for [the vaccine] to really become effective.”
Andreas Handel, an associate professor in the College of Public Health, agrees with Ross that getting vaccinated is an effective measure to avoid catching the flu. His general recommendation is to get the shot at some point in October before it starts to ramp up.
Because it’s still early in the flu season, Handel said it can be difficult to predict what the flu’s effects will be this year. As far as Georgia residents are concerned, Handel said the CDC’s Weekly U.S. Influenza Charts have noticed a “slight uptick” in cases. At this point, though, he said it’s a little early to make a definite prediction.
Beyond getting vaccinated, Ross has a simple piece of advice: wash your hands. He recommends doing so regularly considering the disease spreads quickly through physical contact.
“We sneeze or we cough, and we touch the doorknob, or we shake somebody's hand and we spread it that way pretty easily,” he said. “If you continue to wash your hands, It's been shown to reduce influenza infection.”
Editor's Note: This article has since been updated to include information about #FluGA and flu shots through the University of Georgia University Health Center.