Winter quarter at Western: the time of year when students brace for the cold, bundle up and buckle down. But recent spikes in cases of the flu also means winter quarter can be one of the hardest to get through for many students.
This year’s strain of the influenza virus, formally known as H3N2, has already caused 76 deaths in Washington alone, according to the Washington State Department of Health. This is the highest number of deaths at this point of the season compared to the past six years.
Experts estimate the season can last as long as May.
Although some may view the flu as no more severe than the common cold, the virus kills an estimated 56,000 people in the United States per year, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The elderly, pregnant women and those who suffer from other health issues are at a heightened risk, according to the same report.
While pharmacies and doctors’ offices urge patients to get an annual flu shot, a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that this year’s particular vaccine is only around 10 percent effective in flu prevention. In past years, the flu shot has typically seen a 40-60 percent effectiveness rate.
Dr. Emily Gibson, medical director of Western’s Student Health Center, explains this drop in vaccine effectiveness.
“The effectiveness is based on flu vaccines developed from strains from the Southern Hemisphere and outbreaks six months ago,” Gibson said. “It is a hard thing to predict.”
However, Dr. Gibson explains that the benefits of vaccination outweigh any potential risks.
“The vaccine risks are very low compared to the lost days of school and work from getting sick, as well as exposing others who may be even more vulnerable,” Gibson said.
Medical professionals recommend that people get the flu shot annually, as the cross-reactivity with developing antibodies in the body can help lower the severity of the illness and decrease the likelihood that a person will contract the illness.
“The vaccine risks are very low compared to the lost days of school and work from getting sick, as well as exposing others who may be even more vulnerable.”
DR. EMILY GIBSON
However, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that less than half of Americans got vaccinated during last year’s flu season.
Freshman Athena Adams said being a student makes finding the time to get vaccinated against the flu difficult.
“I just don’t have the time to go get one, nor do I want to make the time because I don’t prioritize it,” Adams said.
One of the best ways students can stay healthy is through regular hand washing, avoiding contact with those who are infected, staying home when sick and drinking plenty of water, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.
Doctors also encourage avoiding stress and other activities that can weaken a person’s immune system, such as burning the candle at both ends. So while late night study sessions may help your grades, skipping out on sleep could heighten the risk of catching the flu.
The Whatcom County Health Department released a statement asking people with mild flu symptoms to visit their primary health care provider before going to a hospital emergency room, to help reduce overcrowding.