Deep, throaty coughs and excessive sneezing can already be heard across campus, signalling the beginnings of the always-dreadful flu season.
While many students may choose not to get their flu shot this year, Ryerson photography student Justine Marasigan says she’s not taking any chances with her health or her marks.
“My academic performance is one of the biggest factors in my decision to (get) the flu shot,” she says.
She recalls the time two years ago when she caught influenza and strep throat at the same time, causing her to miss nearly three weeks of class and fall behind on school work.
For other students like Marasigan, who complete their most important work around the peak of the flu season in November, not getting a flu shot could be the difference between excelling on a final exam or flunking an entire course.
Based on a health survey conducted by the Ryerson Medical Centre last year, 21 per cent of students self-reported that getting influenza or having flu-like symptoms negatively affected their academic performance.
The effects students reported in the survey included receiving a low grade on an exam, getting an “incomplete” on a final assignment and experiencing a significant disruption when writing a final essay.
For some students, such setbacks led to a decrease in their GPA. Others were compelled to drop a course entirely.
As a countermeasure to the flu’s adverse effects on students’ health and academic performance, the health promotion department at Ryerson typically runs flu clinics throughout the month of November, during which about 500 students and members of the community are vaccinated.
“We try to help students stay as healthy as they can so they can do their best during exams,” says Juannittah Kamera, a registered nurse and the health promotion program co-ordinator at Ryerson.
Kamera says that even though the vaccine does not entirely prevent someone from getting the flu, it alleviates the severity of symptoms by helping the body to respond better to the infection.
But not everyone agrees that the vaccine is beneficial. Kamera says that many people are wary of the flu vaccine because of public misconceptions, exaggerations and personal beliefs.
According to a 2013 health report conducted by the Canadian Association of College and University Student Services, more than 75 per cent of post-secondary students avoid getting vaccinated.
Ryerson business student Sarah Fadl says she refuses to get the flu shot. She believes that using natural remedies is a much better way to cure the flu than injecting “unknown antibodies” into her system.
As for the possibility that the flu might have a negative effect on her academic performance, Fadl says it’s a risk she’s willing to take.
“I have gotten sick around exam time before, and even though it’s a pain, it’s temporary and at least I know what’s going into my system.”
If she does get the flu, Fadl says she’ll just get a lot of rest, take a lot of vitamin C and drink warm fluids to get her back in good health.
Earlier this month, Health Canada reported that there would be a potential flu vaccine shortage this year.
However, Joanne Woodward Fraser of the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, which distributes the vaccine throughout the province, says that the public has nothing to worry about.
“Ontario’s overall influenza vaccine supply is not expected to be impacted,” she said in an email.
Woodward Fraser indicated that the doses will be publicly available throughout the province as usual in mid-October, and that this season the flu vaccine will be available in more pharmacies.
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, influenza killed at least 344 Canadians last flu season. However, it is estimated that the more accurate number of deaths is actually around 4,000.
Juannittah Kamera, a registered nurse and the health promotion program co-ordinator at Ryerson University debunks some of the common misconceptions about the flu vaccine and emphasizes the importance of getting your shot this season.
This story originally appeared in print on Wednesday, September 24, 2014.