Recent news reports from NBC and the National Foundation for Infectious Disease have revealed that only between 8 and 39% of college students are getting annual flu shots. Some people hearing this stat may think "so what?" and others might not even have their interest peaked. 

As a microbiology student at University of Michigan I spend a significant amount of my time studying infectious diseases and the public health ramifications that stem from them. Therefore, my interest was definitely peaked and alarms started sounding in the back of my mind. 

What is the Flu and how can you get it?

"Flu" is the colloquial term for a disease caused by an influenza virus. Viruses are non-living organisms that use their host's (aka human's) cellular machinery to reproduce.

In the process of reproduction, viruses activate chemical pathways and their host's immune system thus causing the observable symptoms we associate with sickness.

Flu specific symptoms include chills and fever followed by coughing, congestion, vomiting, rashes, aching, and fatigue. These can sometimes be confused with the common cold, but often times are much more serious and require a longer recovery time.

Between 5 and 20% of all US citizens catch the Flu due to no vaccination. They catch the Flu by coming into contact with airborne virus particles, direct contact (eg hand to mouth transmission) or being sneezed / coughed on by a sick person.

Why aren't college students getting vaccinated?

I am required to be vaccinated because I volunteer at a hospital, however when I asked most of my friends if they got their flu shots all responded with a nonchalant "no".

A lot of reasons play into college students not getting vaccinated on their own. Much of this has to do with the fact that college is the first time students truly become responsible for their own health. They don't have parents dragging them to get shots or trusted doctors urging them to consider vaccination.

Additionally, young adults have the tendency to adopt the "it will never happen to me" mentality. College students are less likely to be concerned about the flu, especially if they are healthy during vaccination season. 

Finally, due to varying levels of awareness and attitudes towards flu vaccination, many college students dont prioritize getting a flu shot which can conflict with busy schedules. So here's where I want to help. 

Why are low vaccination rates scary?

Well first off, we can thank Edward Jenner and Louis Pasteur for the development of vaccines. In essence, a vaccine is a biological agent that invokes an immune response so that the person who received the vaccine will have acquired immunity (yes, this means you can develop some mild symptoms).

These vaccines have changed the way the developed world is impacted by infectious diseases due to the concept of herd immunity. Herd immunity occurs when a significant portion of the population is vaccinated (and immune) so that there is a very small opportunity for infection.

This means that those people who cannot be vaccinated are protected and that the infectious disease in that area is eliminated. The lower the vaccination rates, the less successful the herd immunity.

Though the flu might not seem like a significant threat to healthy college students, college students who get the flu experience 8 days of contagious illness on average. This seriously threatens the lives of those in their community who can be killed by catching the flu due to age, health and immune strength.

Though this topic sounds somber, it is easily addressed by taking the time to get over any white coat syndrome you may have and deal with a little needle prick. I hope you all will go get your flu shots now!