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The Mass Media

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Wash Your Hands!

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First things first: Wash your hands! It’s the simplest and most effective way to stop the spread of influenza and the common cold.

With the flu season fast approaching, many of us wonder how to not get sick. According to flu.gov, the season peaks in January and February, or could come as late as May. To prevent you from coming down with the flu, knowledge is power, so let us start with the facts.

First things first: Wash your hands! It’s the simplest and most effective way to stop the spread of influenza and the common cold.

Viruses cause the common cold. They are small, simple organisms that cannot reproduce on their own. They need your host cells. They attach themselves to a live cell and inject their own reproductive material (DNA/RNA) into your healthy cells and turn them into a factory, producing thousands of new viruses that spread throughout your body causing flu symptoms. This vicious cycle continues until your white blood cells develop a defense and prevent the viruses’ exponential growth, triggering a lessening of the symptoms.

Bacteria are a different breed altogether. As Professor Kesseli, chair of the Biology Department at UMass Boston, so eloquently put it, “We have 10^14 cells in our body. We also have 10^15 bacteria… so that makes us more bacteria than human.” But bacteria do not cause the common cold, and some are even useful and symbiotic to us. They can reproduce on their own and live everywhere. For example we have billions in our digestion tract called Probiotics that reduce many cancer-causing compounds. Others are nasty, like e. coli, which live in improperly handled food, and cause big problems if ingested.

Back to flu shots: the CDC recommends that everyone over six months old get one. There are two types of flu shot: those you take nasally, which contains a weakened virus, and an injection, containing a dead version of the virus. Both will trigger a small immune response, strengthening your bodily defense. The downside is that they only protect you against the most common flu and you may get sick from another viral strain.

Flu season is here so wash your hands, get good sleep and do your best to keep the common cold out of UMass Boston.