While the flu is deadly every year, there seem to be factors making it more deadly this year than in previous years.
According to Aubrey M. Olson, D.O., M.S.Ed., this year there are strains of the flu that left patients open to infections such as strep throat or pneumonia, meaning that while their bodies are already trying to fight off the flu, their also succumbing to other infections. Olson also acts as medical director at Rowan University Student Health Services, chair of the Student Academic Progress Committee at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine (RowanSOM) and assistant professor at the Department of Family Medicine at RowanSOM.
Additionally, Olson said it seems fewer people have gotten vaccinated this year compared to past years.
“It is important to note that even young, healthy people can die from the flu,” Olson said. “Even if you do not get really sick, you can still pass the flu on to other people. And if they are immunocompromised, meaning their immune system is not as strong as it should be, it would be a death sentence for that person.”
Olson said individuals spread the flu when they do not cover their coughs or opt to not wash their hands.
“People with the flu can spread it to others from up to about six feet away,” Olson said. “People also tend to cough into their hands instead of coughing into their elbow, which means that they then go and shake other people’s hands or touch doors or desks (after not performing hand hygiene) and then they spread it to everyone else. The influenza virus can live on hard objects such as telephones, computer keyboards, doorknobs, desks and kitchen countertops for up to 48 hours and on paper money for up to 72 hours, although some strains of influenza can survive on money for more than 10 days.”
As far as preventing the flu, Olson said people should vaccinate. Even though there have been reports that the vaccine is not as effective this year, getting vaccinated regularly can help to prevent the flu. It can even with getting sick with a milder case or a shorter duration than those who have not been vaccinated.
“Most of the deaths from influenza this year have been in people who were not vaccinated,” Olson said.
Additionally, Olson urged people to practice good hygiene, such as washing your hands or using sanitizer after every contact with a common surface. Hand washing and sanitizing should last at least 20 seconds and it is important to try to not touch surfaces like doorknobs right after washing.
Symptoms to watch out for include a fever over 100.4 degrees, sore throat, sinus congestion and runny nose. But these symptoms are non-specific to the flu and can also be indications of an upper respiratory infection. Other symptoms to look out for include chills, body aches, nausea and vomiting.
“Also, if you start with any of the symptoms of [the] flu, please do not go to the gym or other extracurricular activities so that you spread the flu or other viruses,” Olson said. “Please go and be tested at either student health services or urgent care, and if you are positive for influenza, please let your professors know that you will not be in class. Students with influenza are not allowed in any academic buildings or dining halls until they are fever-free for 24 hours without medication (usually 5-7 days after the onset of symptoms).”
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