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Flu Shots: Report From Spring Break 2020

I get my flu shot every year, religiously. I have a hundred students every semester, give or take; most of them live in dorms, where disease travels as easily as a leaf down a stream. As such, I consider myself at elevated risk for flu—not as much at risk as, say, a pediatrician, but certainly more than most people’s jobs give them. I wash my hands between classes and keep tissues and hand sanitizer in my office. Most assignments in my classes are done online, not by paper. This is to say that I take reasonable, recommended precautions against flu. And in general, it’s worked.

Tablets and capsules on a wooden floor.
Image by Khunkorn laowisit via StockSnap

While I had intended to spend my spring break sewing my wedding dress, maybe with some nice before and after pictures here if I made enough progress, I spent it in bed. With the flu.

It wasn’t my students who gave it to me. It was my partner, who picked it up at his workplace. Patient 0 there seems to have been one of the management, probably a case of presenteeism. I had insisted this year that my partner get a flu shot when they offered it at the normal time. He still brought flu home. My partner grumbled something about “The one year I get a flu shot, I get flu.”

I want to adamantly say that that’s not what happened here. I want to defend my flu shot’s efficacy, and I want to encourage, given the current fears about coronavirus (which transmits by the same mechanisms and in many biological ways is similar to flu), that everyone else get flu shots as they’re able.

My symptoms were mild. If it weren’t for a few key differences—sudden onset, high fever, lack of sore throat (which I usually get with a cold), body aches—I’d have assumed I simply had a cold. And I got over it quickly. Many of my partner’s coworkers were not so fortunate, as I understand several of them went to the doctor for their symptoms. That’s how I know for near certain it was one of the flu type A strains, because that’s what they tested for.

The annual flu shot works best against Type B strains, which mutates more slowly and is often more severe. So that’s also a good indicator that my shot worked as expected. Type A just is a little more flexible than the vaccine can fully account for.

But the other thing is that the flu shot can actually make it so that if you do get sick, as I did, your symptoms and duration will be less severe, as it was.

So I don’t want anyone to take my case as an example in why not to get a flu shot. My case is a textbook example of why exactly you should get your flu shot.

And, bear in mind that the CDC and the WHO are recommending that, in the face of novel coronavirus, which we don’t yet have a vaccine for (they’re working on it!), people should stay up to date on their vaccinations, especially flu. It won’t stop you from getting Corvid-19, but it will help keep you from having to go to the hospital with flu complications.

I never had to report to a clinic or even ask for help with my symptoms. I didn’t even realize it was flu until I was nearly well again. My fever stayed manageable with at-home care, as did my other symptoms. It was a best case scenario (short of the actual best case, which is not to get sick at all). And for that, I’m thankful to my flu shot, which I got in the fall. It didn’t completely prevent me getting sick, but it sure did relieve the burden of getting sick to the level of a bad cold rather than serious flu symptoms. That was one less office visit at the local healthcare facilities, a visit that can be used for someone who has underlying conditions or other risk factors, or (heaven forbid) someone with the novel coronavirus.

So what I’m saying is that I would like for everyone to follow the official recommendations right now: Get your vaccinations.

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