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Davis, California

Monday, April 22, 2024

Influenza strikes UC Davis

It’s that time of year again. The weather has us huddling indoors around warm fires. Friends and family gather together to spread holiday cheer, delicious food and … influenza. It’s not something we typically think about, but it’s important. Right now, especially, UC Davis students should make sure they know all about influenza and how it works.

Thomas J. Ferguson, M.D., PhD, is the medical director of the UC Davis Student Health and Wellness Center.

“We are starting to see some influenza cases among students,” Ferguson said in an email.

Influenza is an infectious disease that affects birds and mammals. It is caused by RNA viruses from the family Orthomyxoviridae. RNA viruses use ribonucleic acid (RNA) as their genetic material to infect hosts. This RNA is what makes us feel sick, as it helps the viruses replicate inside us and produce toxins that can harm us.

Influenza is commonly mistaken for other illnesses, such as the common cold and the “stomach flu,” but it is a more intense disease caused by a different, specific kind of virus. The common symptoms include chills, fever, runny nose, headache, sore throat, muscle pains, coughing, weakness, fatigue and general discomfort. While it can also cause nausea and vomiting, influenza is not to be confused with gastroenteritis. This is what we know as the “stomach flu” or the “24-hour flu.”

The flu is more serious than other illnesses for a few reasons. Primarily, it is harder on the body than other similar infectious diseases. It can also lead to pneumonia caused by viruses or bacteria. Lastly, its genetic material is constantly evolving, allowing it to become more infectious and more harmful.

Connie Caldwell, M.D., Yolo County health officer, encourages everyone over six months old to get a flu shot each year.

“Each year’s vaccine is a little different, because each year, the vaccine is produced to match the most common strains of influenza that are circulating around the world,” Caldwell said.

During this time of year, everyone should be getting their flu shot. There are many myths and fears surrounding the vaccinations, but they are only here to help.

Vaccines work by injecting weakened or killed parts of the pathogen (the disease-causing microorganism) into our bodies. Our immune system can then identify these invaders and build a response to them so that later, if the real flu finds its way into our bodies, the system knows what to do.

To those who claim they are too healthy to need a flu shot, Reva Vishwas, a third-year genetics major and intern at the Sutter Davis Hospital Emergency Room, said otherwise.

“Your body does have natural defenses against viruses such as white blood cells; however, viruses can attack and replicate in the body faster than your immune system can work. Antibiotics have no effect against viruses. Vaccination is important because it allows your body to build up a defense before the virus strikes,” Vishwas said.

Furthermore, even if you do easily survive a bout with the flu, not everyone has the same chances.

“The very young, the elderly and those with chronic illnesses are most severely affected … If you are healthy, you might not get very sick with influenza. Still, you would be contagious and could give the flu to your family, acquaintances and vulnerable members of your community. When weighing whether to get the influenza vaccine or not, please consider both your health and the health of those around you,” Caldwell said.



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