Every year, Americans are bombarded with information regarding flu season. Winters are the worst; it seems like everyone is sniffling, coughing or throwing up. It seems unlikely that 2013 will be anything special. If you are one who shares this attitude, it is time to dispel any misconceptions. This is one nasty flu virus, and every person is susceptible.
There are a few different strains of flu that have been circulating this year, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the most active strain is H3N2. If this acronym looks familiar, it is because it is not a new kind of flu. This strain was prominent during the 2003-2004 flu season, and if anyone remembers (like I do), it was quite a nasty year. In 2013, H3N2 is back with a vengeance. Luckily for us, this time we’re ready.
Well, we’re as ready as we can be. The CDC has developed a vaccine that matches ninety percent of the flu strains that are circulating right now. This is an excellent match—probably one of the best yet. Now is the time to get it if you haven’t already, because it has a very good chance of providing protection that was unavailable in the 2003-2004 season.
Now for the scary statistic of the day: the flu virus kills 36,000 Americans per flu season. That is roughly 100 people per day. Statistics on the CDC website show that most fatalities are elderly people, young children or babies and people with underlying health problems that weaken the immune system (e.g. HIV/AIDS). Even with this information, the overall number of fatalities is still a frightening statistic, especially considering the widespread availability of flu vaccines.
One of the many problems with the H3N2 virus is how quickly it is spreading this season. Though it is still early in the new year, thirty-eight out of the fifty states are at a flu trend level that is considered to be “intense,” according to the CDC. This is awfully high, even for a flu season. The other problem with H3N2 is that the virus has morphed to include symptoms similar to Norovirus, one of the nastiest stomach flus I have ever seen. Symptoms include an upset stomach, high fever, body aches, and just generally feeling miserable.
So what can you do? The CDC has two easy steps for avoiding the flu this year.
The first is to get the flu shot. Conn offers free flu shots at the Health Center ($5 if you do not have student insurance). Walgreens and CVS in New London offer them as well; they are free with insurance. Otherwise, they are around $35. Flu shots can be scary, and there have been stories about getting the flu from the shot, but in most cases, it is more helpful than harmful. The shot really is worth getting because this year’s vaccine matches the current strain so well.
The second thing the CDC suggests is that people wash their hands more frequently and avoid spreading germs. College students are going to have to work especially hard on this one. It doesn’t help that simply by being in college we are exposed to more germs than exist in a kindergarten classroom. Communal bathrooms and dining areas and poor hygiene in the case of many students adds up to basically living in a human Petri dish. My advice? Carry hand sanitizer with you and wash your hands whenever you can. Though the flu is awful, pinkeye, scabies and mono are just as unpleasant, and are also pretty easy to find on campuses across the country. I think I’ve made my point: please wash your hands.
The flu season is in full swing, and many might think that if they haven’t gotten sick yet, they won’t catch it at all. However, I would caution that when it comes to the flu, it is so much easier to just get the shot rather than suffer through the symptoms.