Rough flu season sees increase in sickness

Photo by Casey Gomez

Cold weather in the winter months brings with it sniffles, coughs and fevers, symptoms that constitute the flu. This year’s bout of the flu might be more intense than usual, due to a strain that is not well-covered by the standard flu shot.

The strain, an influenza A virus dubbed H2N3, hit Australia strongly last year and is now affecting patients in the
United States.

This is in accordance with the general pattern of the illness affecting the southern hemisphere in the year before it affects the northern.

Cases of students coming into Tech’s Stamps Health Services Center began to spike last week after the return from winter break, according to Dr. Benjamin Holton, the senior director of Stamps Health Services.

“We didn’t see much activity in December, but last week we did see an increase in students that looked like the flu,” Holton said.

Eighteen students were diagnosed with the flu based on their symptoms last week, and 13 of those tested positive for the flu.

Last year’s flu season also saw more cases than usual at Stamps, Holton said. The normal level of flu cases seen is four to five students per week, and last year’s season peaked with around 40 patients coming into Stamps in one week in January.

Holton advised students who want to avoid contracting the flu to wash their hands often, get enough rest and refrain from sharing glasses and eating utensils. He also recommended getting a flu shot, which will provide some protection against the disease. Stamps will hold several flu clinics in the coming weeks during which students can obtain the vaccine for free.

Each year, the flu vaccine is formulated from antibodies that will fight the strains of the virus that are most likely to affect people in that year. H2N3 is known for being especially hard to control and having stronger symptoms than some other strains. Other mutations of the flu virus are also beginning to surface.

Holton asked that individuals who are already sick to stay home from class or work, drink fluids, to rest and to come into Stamps if they could not get their fever down or the illness was not
going away.

“There isn’t a great treatment for the flu,” Holton said. “We don’t have great medications that treat viral infections, of which the flu is one.”

While H2H3 is making the news for causing a number of deaths around the world, these numbers come largely from at-risk populations: those who are very young or elderly and those who have existing respiratory or immune system deficiencies. The most common complication with the flu is pneumonia, which is what makes it dangerous for
these groups.