According to The Washington Post,this year's flu season is already the most widespread on record since health officials began keeping track 13 years ago and has already caused the most hospitalizations in nearly a decade, federal health officials have said. Since the fourth week of January, flu resulted in the deaths of another 16 children, bringing the total pediatric deaths to at least 53 this season.
This year’s flu, H3N2, is particularly strong as the flu vaccine distributed this year was not an optimal match for the virus circulating and has created a stir of the virus across the United States, rather than in pocketed regions as normally demonstrated in flu seasons past.
The flu virus spreads when an infected individual’s respiratory drops come in contact with a healthy individual. This contact can happen through coughing, sneezing, talking, or by coming into contact with contaminated surfaces.
At Western Michigan University, Sindecuse Health Center has confirmed up to 32 cases of influenza through lab tests, according to Dr. Lisa Marshall, director of Sindecuse Health Center and a board-certified family physician.
When asked what WMU students could do in order to prevent the spread of the H3N2 flu virus, Dr. Marshall offered a variety of suggestions.
“Students who have not (gotten) the flu vaccine and have not experienced influenza-like symptoms yet should consider receiving the flu vaccine,” said Dr. Marshall in an email interview. “Flu vaccination is one of the most important prevention measures to take. Other protective measures include frequently washing your hands with soap and water, avoid touching your hands to your face, disinfect commonly touched surfaces and avoid crowded areas or coming into close contact with others who are ill.”
Dr. Marshall made it very clear that although the flu vaccine is less effective this year than it has been in years previous, students should still get vaccinated.
“Even though we are experiencing more illness due to the H3N2 virus, other viral strains are circulating that flu vaccine will be more effective against,” Marshall said.
For anyone who demonstrates flu-like symptoms such as a fever, chills, profound fatigue or weakness, muscle aches, headache, sore throat, congestion and cough, they should remain in their place of residence and rest until they are fever free for at least 24 hours.
If symptoms progressively get worse, students should take immediate steps to see a health professional, especially if they are pregnant, have chronic illness or have severe symptoms such as prolonged fever, difficulty breathing or dehydration.
Recent controversy has surrounded Sindecuse’s inability to administer the flu vaccine to individuals who lack certain insurance plans.
“Many out of state insurance plans and some Michigan insurance Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) and Medicaid plans preclude students from receiving health care and vaccines at Sindecuse Health Center,” Marshall said. “Sindecuse attempts to participate with as many insurance plans as possible; however, insurance regulations are a limiting factor and create barriers for student care.”
Students should continue to remain healthy and active outside of just hand washing and staying away from those that are ill. Maintaining a healthy diet, exercising, getting enough sleep every night and avoiding tobacco products will also work to help keep healthy.
“It is important for students to understand that it is less painful to get a flu shot than to miss important class assignments, tests, deadlines and campus activities after coming down with flu illness,” Marshall said.