Flu predicted to be worse this year than previous years

Dr. Theo Draher is a professor of microbiology in the College of Agricultural Sciences and College of Sciences. According to Draher, because college students live in close quarters, the most important faction of flu treatment is prevention. 

Erica Baldwin, News Contributor

Transmission of flu highest among those spending time in enclosed spaces.

Each year, more than 30 million people will contract the seasonal flu in the United States alone, according to the Center for Disease Control webpage on the burden of influenza. 

Dr. Jeff Bethel, an associate professor of epidemiology in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences, thinks that flu vaccinations among college students are typically low. 

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“People say that you can get the flu from the vaccine, and that’s a myth, it’s not true,” Bethel said. “Influenza is a significant illness, and it’s very important to get vaccinated every year.”

This year’s seasonal flu has been reported to be worse than usual, with three states reporting high rates influenza-like illnesses since the beginning of January, according to the CDC’s flu activity update for the week of Jan. 20. 

“There are two main types of influenza, A and B, and among the A types there are the H3N2 and H1N1 strains, and we’re seeing a lot more of the H3N2 this year,” Bethel said. “In previous years, H3N2 historically causes

more severe disease.”

Dr. Theo Dreher, a professor of microbiology in the College of Agricultural Sciences and College of Science, hypothesized that the severity of this season’s flu could be caused by the effectiveness of this year’s vaccine.

“There are a lot of flu serotypes around, so the World Health Organization presumes that whatever is circulating in the southern hemisphere during their winter will also be circulating in the northern hemisphere the next year, and vice-versa,” Dreher said. “So that decides what the vaccine type should be, and sometimes that guess isn’t quite right.”

According to Bethel, the most common symptoms of seasonal flu are fever and body aches, along with some milder symptoms that people often mistake for a common cold. 

“A flu is going to be more serious. You’re going to have a higher fever, chills, body aches, fatigue, more with the flu than a cold,” Bethel said. “With a cold, people are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose.” 

For students who think they might be coming down with the flu, Dr. Connie Hume-Rodman, the director of clinical services at Student Health Services recommends calling for advice from a medical provider. By doing so, individuals can see if they are good candidates for antiviral drugs which can shorten the course of illness and reduce severity if started within 48 hours of symptoms occurring. 

“If you are having severe symptoms, like difficulty breathing, (inability) to keep down food, severe headache, weakness or a rash, seek care immediately, as early flu symptoms can be difficult to distinguish from early meningococcal disease symptoms,” Hume-Rodman said.

With college students living in close quarters, prevention is the most important aspect of flu treatment, accordinto Dreher.

“Make sure you cover your sneezes and coughs, use disposable tissues instead of handkerchiefs and wash your hands a lot, as you can re-infect yourself, as well as others,” Dreher said.

Hume-Rodman recommends staying home if you think you have the flu.

“To reduce transmitting it to others, it is best to stay home, cover your cough and wash hands with soap and water often, if you have symptoms,” Hume-Rodman said in an email. “Transmission is highest when you spend time with lots of people in enclosed spaces for hours on end, like classrooms and residential hall rooms.”

As stated by Dreher, unlike other close proximity illnesses like norovirus, influenza viruses don’t last very long outside their host—they rely on direct contact to be transmitted.

“For every virus, there are people called super spreaders. Different people can produce different levels of infectious virus,” Dreher said. “Some people might sneeze more than others, and some might not cover their nose, so some people are incredibly active spreaders of the virus to others.”

Despite the low effectiveness of this year’s vaccine, getting the annual flu shot is still vitally important simply because it provides at least some protection, according to Hume-Rodman.

“Some might be tempted to think, ‘Oh, well, then what’s the point?’ To that, I would say, ‘Some protection is better than none,’ and the risk of a flu shot is very, very low,” Hume-Rodman said.