As Mother Nature takes her turn toward winter, the flu season is inevitably just around the corner.
To combat annual flu symptoms, the Amelia T. Wood Health Center offers Ball State students and faculty a flu shot for $15. As of Tuesday, the Health Center was currently out of the flu vaccine, but expects more any day.
Protecting against the flu isn't the only worry of some citizens, however. With the recent threat of bioterrorism, many find themselves concerned about not being able to tell the difference between anthrax infection and symptoms of the more common influenza.
"The initial symptoms of the two are virtually identical," the Health Center's Dr. Kent Bullis said. "The main tip-off is history of exposure."
According to Bullis, if you haven't opened suspicious mail and there is no reasonable risk, it is better to assume the symptoms are the flu.
According to the Indiana State Department of Health, influenza is marked by the following symptoms: fever, muscle aches, headache, lack of energy, dry cough, sore throat and possibly a runny nose. These symptoms last several days for most people but can last up to two weeks.
Initial symptoms of inhalation anthrax are mild and non-specific, and have striking similarity to influenza. Symptoms may include fever, a mild cough and chest pain, but with one main distinguishable difference than that of an anthrax infection: a runny nose.
"It is not a common symptom of anthrax infection to have a runny nose," said Margaret Joseph, a spokeswoman for the Indiana State Department of Health. "It is also not common to have a sore throat, but it does happen occasionally."
After several days, when the flu should be clearing up, anthrax victims may go into shock and experience severe breathing difficulties.
The Indiana State Department of Health urges patients fearing anthrax infection because of prolonged cold or flu symptoms to consult a physician for any of the following symptoms, which may indicate more severe illness: high fever, severe headache, shortness of breath, delirium, chest pain, extreme weakness or dizziness, sinus pain or a toothache develops and/or ear pain develops.
Bullis also urges people to get flu-shots only to combat the flu. He said not to be vaccinated to avoid confusion of flu symptoms with those of anthrax because flu vaccinations are only about 85 percent effective.
"The only reason that logic might be flawed is that if they develop symptoms, they still could very well have the flu," he said.
The flu is a bigger concern than anthrax, according to Joseph, since 20,000 die of the flu each year.
"Influenza is the serious threat to most Americans," Joseph said.