This flu season is shaping up to the most severe since the 2009 swine flu pandemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, flu season typically peaks between December and February the United States. As we near the height of the season, University of Michigan students have flooded into University Health Service.
Researchers have said cold weather and a less effective flu vaccination has enabled the efficacy of the virus this season. Additionally, a particularly hard-hitting strain of the virus, H3N2, make up 80 percent of flu cases this year. According to UHS, the flu vaccination is 70 percent effective in preventing the illness in healthy patients.
Arnold Monto, a professor at the School of Public Health, said this year’s vaccination is less effective than usual due to a “triple whammy.”
“We’ve got big outbreaks, we’ve got the virus that is causing the outbreaks being the one that is most likely to cause the complications, and (the virus is) the one that our vaccine is least effective against,” he said.
In order to create the vaccination, scientists look at data from countries in the southern hemisphere to predict which flu variants will be common during our flu season. This year, those predictions were less accurate, making for a less effective vaccination.
Still, Howard Saulles, interim executive director of UHS, explained it is still important to get vaccinated, especially for students, who tend to be at a higher risk for the virus.
“Students tend to live in fairly close confines, which puts people at greater risks because it’s easier to spread germs and viruses, so students need to take a little bit better care of themselves than the general population,” Saulles said. “They really should be getting vaccinated for the flu, even though it may not be the best match of the vaccine.”
In order to avoid contracting the flu, Saulles encourages students to live healthy lifestyles in addition to getting vaccinated.
“Getting as much sleep as you can, eating properly, these are all things that can help the body’s immune system fight off these viruses,” he said.
Kinesiology junior Kayla Keane said she did not receive her flu shot this year.
“I do not plan on getting the flu shot, because I heard it wasn’t very effective this year,” she said. “It’s just not one of my priorities.”
Perhaps as a result, Keane said she contracted the flu several weeks ago. She has since recovered, and suspects she contracted the flu spending time in the University’s crowded public spaces.
“I’ve always been pretty good about washing my hands and everything, I just feel like it’s really hard when you’re in public places all the time,” she said. “Like if you go to the UGLi, people are just pretty nasty.
Monto’s vision for the future entails creating a new vaccination. This would potentially involve creating a vaccine that does not need to be updated when the strain of the flu virus changes.
“The long-range goal would be to make what they call a universal vaccine, something that works forever, and takes some parts of the virus that don’t change and make those the target of the vaccine,” he said.