Journalism junior Caitlin Scott woke up on Christmas morning with a gift she hadn’t asked for: the flu.
“I could barely move. I spent the day in bed. I haven’t been that sick in so long, so I didn’t really know what to do,” Scott said. “I probably should’ve gone to the ER, to be honest.”
According the the Center for Disease Control, this year’s influenza season is widespread. The United States Department of Health and Human Services has seen the highest pediatric mortality rate in the nation within Region 9, which includes California, Arizona, Hawaii and Nevada.
Flu season in the United States typically lasts from October to March, with its peak in February. However, Jan. 2018 has already demonstrated a larger-than-usual contraction of the flu virus.
“This flu season started a bit earlier than past seasons and was more intense because of the nature of the illness,” Dr. René Bravo, MD, FAAP, said. “There’s a lot of people coming [to the doctor’s office] with influenza symptomatology — I would say 2 to 3 times the number that we saw last year. It was quite a rush.”
Not only is the influenza virus more widespread, but this season’s prominent strain, H3N2, has stronger effects on the body than strains of the virus in years past.
Wine and viticulture sophomore Shea Forrey contracted the influenza virus in October, the same week as two of her midterm exams.
“I usually don’t get the flu, but I did this season. This time definitely felt worse than when I’ve had it before,” Forrey said. “And it didn’t help that I felt like I needed to take my midterms anyway.”
The flu, which can last from a few days up to two weeks, can hinder students’ ability to attend class or complete work.
“I think finding the energy when you’re sick is a challenge when you’re a student,” Scott said. “Thankfully when I was sick, I was on break and I didn’t have many responsibilities to deal with. I was able to lay around all day. But I couldn’t imagine being that sick while also doing everything I’m doing right now.”
How to stay healthy this season
Preventative measures can be taken to reduce the risk of catching the flu.
Every year, scientists work to predict the strain of flu that will be prevalent in the United States. Based on their findings, they create the flu vaccine. This year, the predictions were less accurate than in years prior. Early estimates have found that the vaccination is less effective than past years’ vaccines.
However, Bravo recommended getting the flu vaccine this season despite these predictions.
“There are definite public health benefits as well as individual benefits to getting the flu shot,” Bravo said. “I think that even though it may not hit the right strain, there are other strains of influenza that it does cover, including the swine flu we saw several years ago. Additionally, you never know what partial immunity protections it will afford in the future.”
Symptoms of seasonal influenza include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body or muscle aches, headaches, chills, fatigue and sometimes diarrhea or vomiting.
Bravo recommended self isolation on the onset of flu symptoms. Frequent hand washing, a liberal use of hand sanitizer and covering the mouth when coughing or sneezing can help prevent the spread of the virus.
“If you don’t do it for yourself, please be thoughtful and considerate of those in which influenza can be very dangerous or fatal – the elderly, the babies, people with compromised immune systems because of illness, asthmatics – people who have a rough time with the flu,” Bravo said.
Flu vaccines are available at the Health Center for $17. More information regarding the flu is available on Cal Poly’s campus health and wellbeing page.