A woman is given a flu shot in New York City on Jan. 10. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that this year’s flu season is expected to be one of the worst the country has seen in 10 years.
College students across the country may be starting their spring semester on the couch.
Only it won’t be for unwinding or easy living, but because of the flu.
The flu season is off to a fast and furious start across the country and has affected nearly 30 U.S. states, according to a USA TODAY article. In an increase from 16 states last week, 29 states, as well as the well-populated New York City, have now reported “high flulike activity.”
Craig Roberts, epidemiologist for University Health Services at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, said his school is preparing for a harsh flu season even though America’s Dairyland is said to have low flulike activity.
“People seem to forget that it’s a problem,” he said. “And now it’s on the front page everywhere and people see it in everything. There’s now an increased demand in flu shots.”
UW-Madison gave out 10,000 free flu shots in the first semester and will give out another 5,000 in January, Roberts said.
“Normally we would see nobody come in for flu shots at this time of year,” he said.
Students at Wisconsin are being advised to get their flu shots before they return to school. Roberts said that because students travel and then come back together at one time, different strains can mix and it can be potentially very dangerous.
“You’re probably better off to go home and get that vaccine,” he said.
There are a lot of myths to the flu virus, Roberts said, including that getting the flu shot can immediately shield you from any strain. He said it the shot knocks off about 70% of all strains.
“It’s not 100% effective, but it reduces the risk of complications significantly,” he said.
Arizona State University debunks some of these myths on its website. Arizona is currently labeled as a moderate for its flu impact.
The flu is no myth just north at the University of Utah, where flulike activity is high. University spokesman Keith Sterling said the school’s student government sponsored the Student Health Advisory Committee to give 800 free shots to students.
Measuring college students with flulike symptoms can be difficult, Roberts said, since most statisticians count cases for entire counties and states rather than schools.
The College Health Surveillance Network, housed at the University of Virginia, is the first national database that focuses on college students. Currently, 20 four-year universities contribute flu information to the website, which is supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)..
Cate Santos, a pre-med major at Springfield Technical Community College (STCC), said she’s seen several people at her school with cold symptoms, but not the flu. Her 14-year-old brother, though, did suffer from the flu, she said.
But Santos, 21, hasn’t felt any flulike symptoms as of this week, but said many STCC students are discussing the flu and are worried about the new strains.
“Knock on wood,” she said.
Other schools, though, have little to no flu activity to report on or talk about, like at the University of California – Riverside.
“I haven’t met anyone who is sick,” said Michael Baker, a fifth-year senior studying history and anthropology.
Baker said he had the flu about six years ago and hasn’t contracted the illness since.
“I’ve never received a flu shot,” he said.
The 22-year-old from Fresno, Calif., also said few of his friends will get the flu shot because many have one- to two-day colds, rather than the flu.
But his school’s chief physician, Kenneth Han, said students should prepare for the flu to stretch its way to California. In preparation, the school ordered 11,000 flu shots for the season, with 140 remaining.
“Hey, get ready,” he said. “It’s coming.”
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