Current flu season deemed biggest national health threat

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced in a press briefing on Feb. 2 the biggest national health threat it is currently facing is influenza. The CDC specifically detailed the flu activity as high and widespread throughout the nation.

Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the CDC, said in the press briefing that the flu is incredibly complex and difficult to predict.

“This season is a somber reminder of why flu is one of the world’s greatest public health challenges and why we at CDC focus so intensely on efforts to fight flu,” Schuchat said. “In the past week, we have seen increased influenza-like illness activity, more hospitalizations and tragically, more flu associated deaths in children and adults. And as of this week, overall hospitalizations are now the highest we’ve seen.”

According to a recent news release from The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, they have received five new reports of influenza-related fatalities in just one week, escalating the total influenza-caused deaths this season to 13.

Jenny Alderden, assistant professor in the School of Nursing and a practicing critical care nurse, explained the flu is a virus that mutates, and therefore it is considerably relentless.

“Every year they try to predict how the virus will mutate, and they usually look at the southern hemisphere to see what their virus is doing,” Alderen said. “But because it’s a virus that constantly changes, it’s just a best guess situation when we try to make the vaccine and also in terms of sort of how aggressive the virus is.”

Alderen clarified we have docile and detrimental flu seasons, but in the past there have been far more terrible flu epidemics. Most notably the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, which was estimated to kill 20 to 50 million people worldwide.

Years later, after the Spanish flu pandemic, researchers were determined to have an effective treatment, resulting in the first vaccine for influenza, which was approved in 1946. According to Alderen, the current flu shot is about 10 percent effective, but we really don’t know the effectiveness of the vaccine until the end of the flu season.

“Since the flu this year is affecting so many people, 10 percent statistically is a lot better than 0 percent, and there’s some evidence that if you get the shot and you still get the flu, then the flu will be less severe,” Alderen said. “Also, it’s kind of the generous thing to do to get a flu shot because the flu is probably not going to kill you as a college student, but by getting the flu shot, we can protect those really vulnerable people.”

Tara Brooks, assistant director of patient and business services at Health Services, said in an email that Health Services provides students with the annual flu vaccination, which remains the best defense against influenza.

“One challenge with influenza is that a variety of other illnesses can have similar symptoms, and it may be difficult to identify,” Brooks wrote. “The common cold is another respiratory illness that is similar to influenza but is caused by different viruses. Flu is usually more severe and intense than the common cold, and colds are more likely to cause a runny or stuffy nose than influenza.”

Furthermore, Health Services offers urgent care and walk-in appointments for any student. Brooks explained they encourage students to come in even if they are unsure of their symptoms.

“We want students to know that Health Services is here for them, and we understand that getting sick away from home can be a scary thing,” Brooks wrote.

If students are experiencing flu-like symptoms, they also have the option to call an after-hours nurse line at 208-426-1459.

“Preventing the spread of the flu is probably the number-one piece of advice,” Brooks wrote. “Students can do this by avoiding contact with sick individuals, washing hands frequently, keeping surfaces clean and disinfected and covering both the nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing.”

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