Students fight flu in unfavorable conditions
Published: Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2013 13:02
The stress of attending college is often accompanied by the need to stay healthy, which not always an easy task in the middle of flu season.
According to the World Health Organization, influenza is a viral infection that affects the nose, throat, bronchi and sometimes the lungs. Once infected, a person’s symptoms usually last a week, and are recognized by a sudden arrival of high fever, aching muscles, headache and severe cough, sore throat and rhinitis.
In infants, the elderly and people with other serious medical conditions, infection can lead to pneumonia or death.
“I recommend it unless they have a specific reason not to get it, like they’re allergic to the vaccine or if they have something that will make them sicker if they get the vaccine,” said James Davis, the Student Health and Wellness Center director and physician. “I do recommend that people in this age group get the vaccine.”
Weslie Hatch, a freshman studying special education, said she doesn’t usually get a flu shot and doesn’t think its necessary.
“I guess overall I just don’t think they do much,” she said. “I think it’s kind of like medicine. It’ll help, for sure, but you can still get sick. You just need to take care of yourself to make sure you don’t catch the flu.”
Tyson Glover, a sophomore majoring in civil engineering, is required to get a flu shot at the beginning of the year while in the Army.
“I’m forced to get one, but if I had the choice I probably wouldn’t,” he said. “I think the flu shot only covers you from one type of the flu and there are so many out there. I mean they’re free, which is nice, but I’m not sure if I’m super convinced on it or not.”
According to Davis, there are two different kinds of flu vaccines. One type of flu vaccine is broken up from destroyed and damaged flu virus and that creates an antigenic reaction. The other kind of vaccine is made from a flu virus that’s been weakened in order for people to contract a mild flu infection which leads to immunity.
“We usually give you a choice so you can pick, because there’s one that’s a nasal spray and there’s one that’s an injection, an injection deep under the skin, and then one that’s just shallow,” Davis said.
He said this flu season has been particularly bad because of new virus that isn’t covered by the vaccine. It is an H3N3 virus that mutated from one of the other flu viruses they were prepared for.
Flu viruses mutate and migrate, change proteins and DNA and tend to drift and change a little bit from year to year. Doctors keep up with the changing viruses by watching the Southern Hemisphere in its colder months.
“People like the Center For Disease Control and The World Health Organization watch the Southern Hemisphere and they see what viruses are present there during the summer for us and winter for them, and then they review which viruses have been most prevalent in the southern hemisphere,” Davis said.
He said they use this information to plan ahead for the upcoming flu season in the United States.
“This past year they gave us three different viruses mixed in in order to protect us from those three,” Davis said. “But about mid-November, a little flu virus crept in that was brand new and we hadn’t had any exposure to it. It wasn’t foreseen.”
Hatch said she has noticed people have been hit pretty hard this year and watched friends and family endure this unforeseen virus.
“I’ve watched it go through my family and extended family and it was pretty bad,” she said. “I’m pretty sure it started with my cousin’s little boy and he spread it throughout the whole family.”
Davis said with only the three viruses expected for this season, the success rates were in the high 80s to low 90s in percentile, but with the emergence of the unexpected virus, it has been about 65 to 70 percent effective.
“It’s like you’re headed through an intersection and you look three ways and you don’t look the fourth way, and you get blindsided,” he said.
Davis said the most important thing to focus on is prevention.
“Isolation when you get the symptoms, stay home and don’t spread it around,” he said. “Second thing is good hand washing with the alcohol hand rubs, coughing into the corner of your sleeves so you don’t spread the germs around and maintain good health habits — good hydration, a little bit of exercise, good nutrition and those kinds of things so that you can prevent it.”