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It’s that time of year again! Groggy-eyed students are sniffling into tissues, coughing behind cupped hands, and swallowing down medicine as they fear they have been hit by a flu bug that will knock them out of classes for a week.

Those who haven’t yet found themselves sneezing up a storm are caught in the yearly dilemma: To get a flu shot, or not?

The question is riddled with controversy. Of course we all want to stay healthy, but sometimes we find ourselves faced with contradictory medical advice. To help you make an informed decision this flu season, we went in search of some facts.

“The flu” is a short term for influenza, which is an acute respiratory illness that can potentially result in a more serious case of pneumonia.

When a flu shot is administered, it stimulates the immune system to build up antibodies that subsequently strengthen the body’s natural defensive response against a virus attack.

For most people, the flu lasts three to seven days. In that time, commons symptoms such as recurrent headaches, muscle aches, fever, chills, a stuffy nose, and a hoarse cough are experienced. While this short period of time can be uncomfortable, it is often enough to confine a student to bed, putting them out of action during one of the busiest stretches of the academic school year.

What is the best way to avoid this sickly fate? According to many, go get yourself a flu shot.

One of the biggest pros of the flu shot is the ease with which it can be acquired. Over the past few years, the flu shot has become widely available outside the doctor’s office and can now be administered at many pharmacies, workplace flu clinics, schools, local public health flu clinics, and in medical walk-in centres.

In addition to accessibility, flu shots can be life-saving. While people of any age can catch the flu, children, the elderly, and those living with chronic illness are more at risk and can develop complications that may lead to hospitalization. Even if you are a healthy adult, getting the flu shot can prevent the potential spread of the virus to others whose immune systems are weaker.

Despite these positive facts, there seems to be an increasing amount of confusion and skepticism surrounding the pros and cons of receiving the flu shot. In particular, many people share the common misconception that the flu shot causes the flu. It doesn’t! The flu vaccine certainly does contain strains of the influenza virus, but is made with an inactivated or attenuated (weakened) form. Flu shots may result in mild side effects, such as soreness at the site of injection or a low-grade fever, but will not actually cause the flu itself to develop.

That being said, there are risks associated with getting the flu shot. A recent study concluded that the flu shot was only about 59 percent effective in adults and even less so as a preventative measure among the elderly.

Furthermore, flu viruses warp and change annually, so while you will be protected against the most dominant strain of the flu for the year, revaccination will need to occur each and every flu season.

This has caused some people to question the long-term effects of substance buildup in the body that comes from getting the shot. In order to prevent bacterial contamination, a preservative is added to the vaccine which contains mercury.

In addition to being linked to birth defects and reproductive abnormalities, mercury is also toxic to the brain. The gradual accumulation of mercury has been connected with the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and an increased risk of developing dementia, memory loss, and cognitive dysfunction.

While the flu shot is intended to protect individuals, not everyone is advised to get it. Some people experience severe allergic reactions to the shot. The flu shots are actually cultivated inside of chicken eggs, so anyone with an allergy to egg protein should seek medical advice before being injected. Similarly, pregnant women or women attempting to conceive a child are advised to avoid the shot, due to the mercury content.

Ultimately, everyone is encouraged to conduct their own research and critical analysis of available information before deciding whether or not they should get the flu shot.