According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the flu has become an epidemic. Thousands of people have been hospitalized since Oct. 1., including 1,842 Minnesotans. That’s 20 more than the total number hospitalized during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic. There have been also been 60 deaths, which is 33 more than last year.
Although the flu has seen record-setting numbers, Suzanne Stroup, an RN at Hendrix Health Center, said there has only been one confirmed case of influenza on campus this year.
This could be in part to the particular strains of influenza that are dominant this season. According to an article in the Star Tribune, the most popular strain in Minnesota is H3N2, which is known for hitting the elderly the hardest. In fact, nearly 90 percent of deaths are those 65 years and older.
But just because the disease targets the elderly doesn’t mean people of all ages are not at risk; there have been deaths among children and teens alike. Doctors advise people who have any of the symptoms of influenza to schedule an appointment immediately.
“It’s the suddenness of how it hits,” Stroup said. “It’s usually body aches, pretty high fever, sore throat, cough, fatigue; everything gets pretty strong. It’s different than the cold.”
People with minor symptoms, who don’t feel seeing a doctor is necessary, are urged to stay home and treat their symptoms accordingly.
“There is no magical treatment for the flu, if you have the symptoms you treat them,” Stroup said. “If you have a fever, you take a fever reducer. If you have a stuffy nose, take a decongestant.”
In North Dakota there have been 2,491 confirmed cases of influenza with over 1,000 cases affecting those under 10 years old or over 60 years old. There have been six deaths, and 12 counties have 50 plus cases, including Cass County.
Influenza does occur year round but is typically highest from October to May and hits the hardest in January and February. However, this season, numbers have already surpassed past records and continue to climb, creating a worse-than-average season, according to Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The flu vaccination is the No. 1 way to get protection from the illness. According to the CDC, the shot reduces chances of getting the flu, and its severity, by 60 percent.
“It helps a lot, it will reduce the amount of time you are ill and the severity if you get it,” Stroup said. “It protects you, you may get a little variation of one because there are so many strains, but overall it will protect you.”
Flu shots are still available, but limited; Hendrix Health Center recently ran out. There are some clinics in the Fargo-Moorhead area that still have shots available, but it is recommended to call in advance to make sure the clinic has the vaccination on hand. Bear in mind, it takes roughly two weeks for the protection to develop after getting the vaccine.
Many people have opted to get the seasonal flu shot in this epidemic. However, for those that choose to go without the shot, there are other preventative measures.
To prevent the flu, avoid close contact with people, especially those who are sick; stay home if sick — it helps recovery and prevents spreading the illness; cover noses and mouths with tissues; clean hands, wash often with soap and water or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer; avoid touching eyes, nose or mouth and practice other good health habits, like eating healthy, getting enough sleep and exercise.
Several students at MSUM have heeded doctor’s warnings and gone in to get the vaccination.
“I got the flu shot,” said Kendra Steinke, a communications studies sophomore. “My mom is a nurse so she is pretty on top of that.”
Although many people did get the shot, there are students that chose not to at MSUM.
“No I didn’t get the flu shot,” said Jenna Weinberger, a mass communications junior. “If I’m going to get the flu I might as well get it.”
However, if one is diagnosed with influenza, or is experiencing some of the symptoms, the treatment and effects of the flu will keep one down for quite some time.
“If one is diagnosed with the flu, they are written out of school for at least a week,” Stroup said. “They can only return after being fever-free for 24 hours without using a reducing agent like Tylenol or Ibuprofen.”
Those who are experiencing flu-like symptoms should call their primary healthcare provider or Hendrix Health Center at 218.477.2211 and schedule and appointment today.
BY MEREDITH WATHNE