Above photo: With this year’s outbreak being the most severe since 2015, vaccinating for the flu is as important as ever. NHS Employers | Flickr
By Delaney Brown
The end of the holiday season means the flu is out in full force.
Almost six percent of Americans currently seeking medical care have flu symptoms, and every state, excluding Hawaii, has reported widespread flu activity, which led the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to declare the 2017-18 flu season “moderately severe.”
However, the moderately severe rating is common. The 2014-15 flu season received a similar ranking.
The H3N2 strain of the influenza virus is what experts at the CDC cite as the reason for the severity of this year’s outbreak. This strain is the most dangerous of the seasonal flu strains, as it tends to bring more severe symptoms, especially for those already at increased risk, such as pregnant women and those with asthma or heart disease.
College students are put at risk for contracting the flu virus by close living quarters and communal spaces.
“We are seeing lots of different viral infections, not necessarily just the flu. We are seeing a lot of bacterial infections: bronchitis, sinusitis, as well as gastrointestinal viruses,” said USF nurse practitioner Aimee Dougherty.
The flu claims 12,000 to 56,000 lives each year. While many of the deaths are among children and the elderly, ages 18-64 make up 60 percent of reported flu hospitalizations.
Flu strains vary from year-to-year, forcing scientists to adapt the vaccines to target the most prevalent strains.
However, epidemiologists are not psychics. Sometimes predictions don’t reflect reality, as is the case this year.
This year’s flu vaccine is a poor match for the particular H3N2 strain in circulation. The CDC estimates that the vaccine will be effective in preventing only 30 percent of H3 viruses this year. However, even in the best years, the flu vaccines topped out at 60 percent effectiveness.
With 13 weeks left in the flu season, experts still recommend getting flu shots. Even if the vaccine doesn’t prevent catching the flu, it can help to minimize the symptoms.
“It’s never too late to receive a flu vaccine,” said Dougherty.
Flu shots are free for students at the Wellness Center in SLC 2200. Vaccinations are covered annually by tuition fees.
For those who have already received flu shots, there are steps that can minimize the chance of exposure.
Dougherty recommends avoiding close contact with the infected, frequent hand washing with soap or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer and disinfecting surfaces that may be contaminated.