Flu season is beginning and experts are encouraging students to prioritize immunizations for both flu and COVID-19.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, flu season peaks around fall and winter, starting in the midst of the fall semester for students. At BYU, an epidemiology and infectious disease prevention professor and a Student Health Center medical assistant say COVID-19 is still spreading, and vaccinations are important.
The CDC reported the time between December and February are when flu cases peak. They say the best time to get immunizations is around September and October, but vaccinations after October can still be effective.
BYU epidemiology professor Chantel Sloan-Aagard said the 2014 Ebola outbreak, COVID-19 and monkeypox are “zoonotic” viruses, meaning they spread from animals to humans.
Sloan-Aagard also said viruses survive by evolving in “spillover events.” A spillover event is when a virus is able to adapt to a new host species and infect that member of the new host species,” she said.
According to Sloan-Aagard said the spillover does not happen rapidly.
“Viruses are pretty specific on what species they infect, and it takes some evolutionary time to infect new species,” Sloan-Aagard said, which explains why certain people or species are not affected and some are.
Sloan-Aagard said every year there are new strains of the flu from aquatic birds.
“Most of those strains don’t spread to human populations, but some do, and that is why we keep needing flu shots,” she said. Most zoonotic viruses do not become global, but whether or not they do depends on how certain networks of people interact with each other and how contagious the virus is.
Siena Healey, a medical assistant at the BYU Student Health Center, was hired earlier this month. During her first week, she saw many students with symptoms of cold and flu confirmed a couple of cases of COVID-19.
“I would strongly encourage people to get the COVID-19 vaccines and regularly get tested for COVID-19,” Healey said. “If you are feeling sick, just stay home and take the necessary precautions.”
BYU student Taylor Langhaim said she attended the Student Health Center for flu-like symptoms and was required to test for COVID-19 before seeing a doctor.
It is possible for viruses to be eradicated, according to Dr. Sloan-Aargard.
“Vaccines are the way we can get rid of viruses for good,” she said. She used smallpox as an example: “Smallpox, is the only disease we know of that has been eradicated from the globe, and it was done by a vaccine.”
Sloan-Aagard suggested COVID-19 will be with us for the long run. “Even if we can go without masks and don’t worry about being hospitalized, there is still a risk of being re-infected because of its rapid evolution,” she said.
Though the new strains might be less severe, Sloan-Aagard said people should not be complacent.
“Those [unvaccinated people] can be a population where the virus spreads and evolves. It is the same reason why we still have measles outbreak due to the unvaccinated population. It’s going to be with us for a while,” she said.