BY ZOE HOWARD AND CYDNEY OWENS
During the beginning weeks of 2018, hospitalizations due to influenza continue to rise. Despite receiving the flu vaccine, huge numbers of people across the country fell ill from the H3N2 strain of the flu.
Flu vaccines are, on average, sixty percent effective against the flu, but the H3N2 strain is notoriously more resistant to the flu vaccine compared to other strains during milder flu seasons. This, paired with a vaccine that is less than twenty percent effective, has resulted in a flu season that is shaping up to be one of the worst in decades. We are currently in the peak of the flu season, and the number of flu cases is expected to continue to increase as the season progresses.
Metro Atlanta had one of the worst flu outbreaks in the country according to data compiled and analyzed by Doctors Report. The Grady Memorial Hospital reports a twenty-five percent increase in flu-related ER visits and has set up a tent–a mobile ER–in their parking lot to accommodate the influx of flu patients.
The CDC publishes weekly reports tracking the progress of this year’s flu season. They have an interactive map illustrating the spread of the flu throughout the United States since October. Oregon, Hawaii, and Washington, D.C., are the only areas in the US that are not reporting widespread flu outbreaks.
At Agnes Scott, students are particularly susceptible to catching and spreading the flu since they live in such close quarters and share bathrooms and kitchens.
Sonya Allen, a nurse at Agnes Scott’s Wellness Center, says, “Thankfully, we haven’t seen many students with the flu on campus. However, some have presented with varying degrees of ‘flu like’ symptoms i.e. fever, body aches, chills, etc. I would like to also stress the definitive way to know whether or not you have the flu is by testing via a flu swab, which is offered at urgent care centers or primary care physicians’ offices.” This flu swab is not offered at the Wellness Center, so the only way to confirm a case of the flu is to visit a doctor’s office outside Agnes Scott.
Indeed, symptoms of influenza are often confused with symptoms of the common cold. Zoie Moore ‘21 says, “I have never had the flu before, but I have had a cold. When I had the cold, however, I was told by my doctor that these were similar symptoms of the flu as well.”
Colds and the flu share some of the same symptoms, but the way to differentiate the two is by considering how quickly symptoms appear and which symptoms are more likely to occur for a particular illness. Shown below is a chart comparing flu and cold symptoms:
Even though this flu season is particularly bad, there are steps students can take to reduce their chances of getting sick. Marcia Peters in Agnes Scott’s Wellness Center recommends that students practice “good hand washing and keeping your hands away from your face,” along with “staying well by sleeping eight hours a night, eating well, staying hydrated, and stress reduction activities.”
Sonya Allen says that in addition to good hand washing, “Lysol spray works great as well, especially in environments like dorm rooms and shared bathrooms. If friends are sick, give them some time to get well before close interaction to prevent further spread of any possible germs.”
However, if students do fall ill, they are highly encouraged to visit the Wellness Center or an urgent care center.
While the flu is usually just an inconvenience, there are instances where the flu can become life-threatening. The CDC has created a list of the life-threatening symptoms of the flu. If you or anyone you know has any of the warning signs listed below, go to the hospital immediately.
For students with these warning signs on campus, Marcia Peters says that “a student having a medical emergency on campus should call Public Safety and EMS will be called to evaluate the student.” While young children and the elderly are at more risk of death from the flu, these emergency warning signs should be taken seriously in all people.
Savannah Pittman ‘21 says,”Hearing about these recent fatalities from the flu is scary, but I will remain hopeful for those who are currently suffering.”
This year’s flu season should be taken very seriously, as should every flu season. It is very important that precautions are taken to prevent getting ill and spreading the flu to other individuals, especially during a season that is turning out to be one of the worst in decades. For more information about the 2017-2018 flu season, visit https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/season/current.htm.