By ALLISON GUY
It’s February, the month of Valentine’s Day, President’s Day and Groundhog Day… and yet another month of winter. The flu season is upon us once again, and it has been especially severe this winter.
Earlier this month, the Maryland Department of Health issued a press release stating that, for the first time ever in the state of Maryland, a child has died from influenza. According to officials from Frederick Memorial hospital in Frederick, Maryland, an adult, later confirmed to be a 41-year-old woman, passed away due to influenza at the end of January.
But the flu is not just affecting Maryland: it is affecting the whole nation.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of Feb. 3, widespread flu activity was reported in 48 states, and a total of 63 children have died from influenza-related causes in the 2017-2018 flu season. In fact, the flu activity this season has spread so rapidly that it is now being considered an epidemic.
This winter’s flu season is a nasty one, and while it is affecting the nation as a whole, its effects can also be seen right here on Salisbury University’s campus.
SU’s Director of Student Health Services Victoria Lentz has noticed the increased occurrence of a flu-like illness on campus.
“We participate in the state surveillance for the flu, and so we do keep track of what we call an influenza-like illness that has to meet certain criteria—you know, fever, body aches, sore throat, chills—and… usually we report maybe 1 or 2 cases to the state, and it starts in October and it goes till May… and so, for example, last week… I think we reported 25 cases?” Lentz said. “So you can see we’ve really gone up.”
The cause for the increased severity of this winter’s flu season is likely due to a certain strain of influenza. Though flu strains vary from flu season to flu season, according to Time.com, this year’s dominant flu strain is H3N2, and it is known for being less responsive to the flu vaccine than other strains of influenza.
However, while this year’s flu shot may not be as effective at preventing influenza as flu shots from previous years, it is still the best way to protect against getting the flu.
“Although this year’s flu vaccine is not a great match—they still say it’s…your best protection, and if you get the flu, you won’t get it as severe,” Lentz said.
SU has taken steps to make sure that the flu vaccine is available to the campus population. Feb. 9, the Peninsula Regional Medical Center’s Wagner Wellness Van came to campus offering free flu shots to students 18 years and older.
Lentz said 180 people were vaccinated during this event. Flu shots were also offered in Holloway Hall in October.
Besides getting the vaccine, Lentz suggests that students protect themselves from getting the flu by practicing healthy habits such as good handwashing, cleaning surfaces with wipes and getting good sleep while consuming a good diet.
Lentz also offered advice for students who suspect they may have the flu.
“So, most people probably don’t need to be seen, but… certainly we’re more than happy to evaluate it if students aren’t sure what to do,” Lentz said. “The best advice is to not go to class, not go to the dining hall, not go to the gym, don’t go to work—you need to, you know, stay home and rest. You need to take…ibuprofen or acetaminophen… Advil or Tylenol, to reduce the fever, and you need to make sure you’re drinking lots of fluids…again, good hand-washing and just, you know, staying away from other people to prevent the spread of it.”
Although the flu season is more severe than usual this year, there is an upside. By practicing healthy habits and taking precautions such as getting a flu shot, students can prevent themselves, and others, from getting sick. We can all work together to make our campus community a healthier place.
Graphic by Amy Wojtowicz.