“At Student Health, we have seen well over double the number of flu cases last year [Winter 2008] as compared to the same time periods in the past five winters,” Dr. Elizabeth Downing, director of UCSB’s Student Health, said.

November marks the start of flu season. Influenza (the flu) is a serious disease of the nose, throat and lungs that can lead to pneumonia. Every year about 200,000 people in the U.S. are hospitalized. But even if you are not hospitalized, the flu can mess up your ability to study, socialize, go to class, work and simply feel good.

I don’t like shots. But I get a flu shot every year because it is the MOST effective way to protect myself from the flu. Repeat: A flu shot is the MOST effective way to protect yourself from the flu.

There are a lot of myths about the flu shot. Here are three that just aren’t true:

Myth #1: The flu shot causes some people to get the flu.

Truth: No. It’s impossible to get the flu from a flu shot. Injected flu vaccines only contain dead virus. It’s dead, people. A dead virus can’t infect you.

Myth #2: If you are young and healthy, you don’t need to get a flu shot.

Truth: Healthy young people get the flu. Why suffer if you can avoid it? And, if you fail to get yourself vaccinated and get the flu, you can spread it to others. You are being a good citizen – protecting those less healthy than you – by getting vaccinated.

Myth #3: If you have gotten the flu this season, you can’t catch it again this winter.

Truth: The flu is not one single virus. Usually there are two main flu viruses infecting people during a season. You might be unlucky and get the flu more than once. A flu shot will decrease your chances of that happening.

Student Health is offering flu vaccinations — $15 for students / $20 for staff at various times and locations this year.

“While there is absolutely no scientific basis for the use of supplements such as Echinacea or Airborne, the following measures are known to help prevent cases of influenza: cough into your elbow/sleeve, wash your hands often, get adequate amounts of sleep and avoid sharing drinks and indiscriminate lips. Smoking any substance always decreases immunity to respiratory germs and also prolongs these illnesses. If you’re a smoker, consider checking out our free smoking cessation program,” Dr. Downing suggested.

Now, what are you waiting for? Stay healthy this winter — get that shot!