Breanna Brink, Staff Writer
The flu is a common threat that many tend to overlook, as it isn’t as scary as Ebola, isn’t as earth-shattering as cancer, and you usually recover. Yet, thousands of people die from the flu (or flu related complications) every year. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) says those who are younger than five or older than 65 are at the highest risk, your chances doubling if you have a pre-existing condition or a weak immune system. It is not uncommon, but the risks are generally not discussed. With reports compiled from hospitals all over the U.S., the CDC reports that 2012-2013 had a high of 65,000 deaths reportedly linked to influenza. What’s more concerning is this number could have been larger, since hospitals are not required to submit data on patients over 18 years old, or who died later due to complications brought by the flu, but not directly linked.
While Washington state has yet to be hit as aggressively as some more populated states, that does not mean we should let our guard down. Several news outlets and hospitals have confirmed that with the number of deaths and patients, it can be classified as an official epidemic. According to King5, “in Thurston Country, the overloaded emergency rooms prompted health officials at Providence St. Peter Hospital to activate ‘Disaster medical Control Center’ for the first time in ten years.” They have stated that, while on average their inpatient flow is only five percent flu symptoms, it recently has jumped to 20 percent, and they worry that the season will only get worse through the rest of February and March.
This strain of influenza is identified by the CDC as H3N2, or Influenza A. This virus is an influenza strain that contains genes from human, avian and swine origins. H3N2 has proven to be quite the devastating illness, spreading quickly and killing without distinction. Just over the last week of January, 16 children died from the flu, and none had pre-existing medical conditions. This flu is serious, and anyone can catch it. Like something out of science fiction, NBC news reported, “one experiment showed that certain “new” genes in these never-before-seen viruses help them thrive deep in the lungs, which can cause pneumonia and might provoke an overwhelming immune response. While a few people seem to die within hours or days, flu can cause lingering sickness in others. Then they become susceptible to other infections, such as streptococcal or staphylococcal bacterial infections.” These secondary infections are what generally cause the wide-spread death we witness. They can damage organs, generate pneumonia or even get into the bloodstream, causing another kind of immune system overreaction called sepsis. In the end, it isn’t so much H3N2 that’s killing you, but your bodies’ attempts to get rid of it, or the secondary infection because of your compromised immune system.
So what can you do to avoid catching the flu? Or, what do you do if you think you have it? Most people would automatically tell you to go get a flu shot, and SMU would recommend the same. However, the first data on the effectiveness of the flu vaccine has been released for North America, and it is quite telling. The study published by the 2018 European journal on infectious disease, Eurosurveillance, has found that the flu vaccine was only 10 percent effective against H3N2 among adults age 20 to 64. If you include children and elderly, this number jumps to 17 percent, which isn’t much better.
With that in mind, it’s time to try the surefire methods of prevention we all know, and hopefully use. This virus is spread between source-contact, or within a six-foot radius of someone who has been coughing or sneezing. Avoid touching your mouth, eyes, and face before washing your hands. If you come into contact with someone who has the flu, any bodily secretions can transfer the virus. The CDC has recommended that you take vitamins to increase your health, wash your hands constantly, and minimize exposure expose to those who have the flu. This also applies the other way around. If you have the flu, make an appointment with your care practitioner to find out if you have Type A or Type B. If you are diagnosed with H3N2, please stay home or in your dorm to prevent spreading of the virus. According to the CDC, if you have thrown up, do not go to class or work for the next 12 hours, and if you have a fever, please remain inside for 24 hours after the fever has subsided. This ensures that you will not transmit the virus while it is still active.
The over-the-counter medicine Tamiflu will likely be prescribed for symptom relief, please stay hydrated and well-rested. We understand you may have a quiz, but teachers should be accommodating to prevent the spread of H3N2. If you want to take an extra step to prevent getting the virus, purchase the immune support Boiron, which can be found in most drug stores. Or the low dose natural antibiotic A.D.P, which can be found on Amazon.com. Wait to take either of these homeopathic aides till you have contacted your local health practitioner for more guidance. Ginger or peppermint teas are also excellent ways to boost the immune system and keep your lungs and gut healthy.
As always, stay safe and keep your hands away from your eyes and mouth. Every year the flu passes through and SMU is not exempt, but we can take the proper precautions to prevent the spread of this virus by keeping it contained and ourselves clean. Stay hydrated and healthy, Saints!