Deadly flu season hits United States hard

By Michelle Gillingham, Daily Staff Reporter
Published January 16, 2013

Runny noses, muffled coughs and achy pains are back — flu season has arrived on campus.

Dominated by Influenza H3, this flu season has proven to be more life-threatening than any other flu in recent U.S. history, claiming 20 deaths among children as of Jan. 14, four of which occurred in Michigan.

The flu vaccination, which is in short supply nationwide, covers three strains: Influenza AH3N2, AH1N1 and Influenza B. Another strain of the B virus has been found in Michigan— it is not, however, affected by the vaccine.

Eden Wells, clinical associate professor of epidemiology, said to the circulating flu is not considered to be a pandemic, though such an event is always a possibility.

“Right now we wouldn't expect the strains that are currently circulating that are covered by the vaccine to cause us any problems in terms of a pandemic,” Wells said. “Influenza always has a tendency to mutate. If it were to mutate it may not be well covered by the vaccine, which could cause a problem.”

Amanda Simanek, assistant research scientist in the Department of Epidemiology, said to avoid viruses and bacteria individuals should avoid touching their eyes, nose or mouth. Practicing healthy habits such as getting adequate sleep, engaging in physical activity and eating healthy will ensure the immune system is strong enough to fight the flu, she said.

Most importantly, Simanek added that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends, “individuals who think they have the flu stay home when they are sick and practice good hand hygiene to prevent their illness from being spread to others.”

Simanek said that it may help to wear a facemask to prevent germ spreading.

Chief Health Officer Robert Winfield, who is director of the University Health Service, said it's important to wash hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based solution, such as hand sanitizer. He added that it is critical to cover mouths while coughing and sneezing in order to prevent germs from spreading.

Winfeld said the best way to stay healthy is to get a flu vaccination.

“We know that (the flu vaccination) decreases the chance of getting influenza by 60 percent,” Winfield said. “Influenza usually lasts seven to 10 days and you usually miss about a week of class if you get influenza."

UHS offers flu vaccination appointments for $42.

Winfeld said students should be mindful of the heavy caseload UHS takes on during flu season when scheduling an appointment. Services are most promptly provided to patients who have already contracted the flu.

“If you have a cold — even if you have an exam coming up — there's not much that we are going to be able to do for you,” Winfield said. “If, on the other hand, you're running a 102 fever, have muscle aches and a cough, or you have a fever, a really stiff neck, and head pain, then we would want to see you to evaluate what is going on.”