Flu epidemic reaches campus

An unwelcome visitor has arrived on campus for an extended stay: the flu. Students live in extremely close quarters, and consequently college campuses are highly susceptible to a flu outbreak.

Graphic by Lauren Lukacsko

Unfortunately, Wake Forest is no exception and has gradually fallen victim to this winter’s H3N2 flu outbreak. This has been one of the nation’s worst flu seasons in the past decade according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

The CDC has declared the current flu season an “epidemic,” meaning that the number of deaths has surpassed the expected number of deaths.

As of the second week of January, a reported 2,257 Americans have been hospitalized with the flu and 18 children have died nationwide since October.

Flu symptoms, which come on rapidly and generally last for five to six days, include fever, achiness, headaches, sore throat and extreme fatigue.

Campus has experienced its fair share of the flu with a reported 84 cases thus far in the school year — 52 cases in the fall, and 32 cases this winter. Cecil Price, director of Student Health Services, notes that these 84 cases mark a busy year.

“Last winter, fewer than 20 cases of the flu were reported on campus,” Price said.

Students have felt the effects of this dramatic spike in flu-like symptoms. Freshman Grayson Absher, for example, caught the flu shortly before exams.

“It was really difficult because it impeded my ability to study for my exams,” Absher said. “I had to go home for about 10 days.”

Teachers have also seen class attendance dip dramatically as a result of the flu season.

“Last semester was noticeably worse than usual in my two classes,” Brian Kell, lecturer in computer science, said.

While dire, the flu epidemic of 2013 is reminiscent of one year in the past decade: the infamous H1N1 (swine flu) outbreak of 2009. At that time, 5,011 Americans were hospitalized with 302 fatalities as a result of the swine flu.

On campus, 200 cases of the flu were reported, over double the amount of cases this year.

As opposed to this year’s epidemic, the CDC labeled 2009’s flu breakout a pandemic, defined as an epidemic that has spread across a large region or over multiple continents.

Although the H3N2 virus is known to be powerful and occasionally deadly, it is not a new strain, as the H1N1 virus was in 2009. Because doctors have encountered this particular virus before, the current flu vaccine is more precisely matched to this season’s H3N2 strain and has thus been more effective in flu prevention than in 2009.

Unfortunately, the flu season is not over. “Usually the flu lasts for about four weeks within a community, but this year it has lasted much longer,” Price said. “We’re still seeing many cases.”

The uncommonly high number of flu cases has put pressure on the medical industry as doctor’s offices nationwide are reporting shortages of the flu vaccine.

“Our wholesale providers are starting to run short, but I’m confident we can get more if needed,” Price said.

Receiving the flu vaccine is one of the most surefire ways to avoid getting the flu. For $27 per dose, Student Health Services offers students the flu vaccine on a walk-in basis.

This year’s vaccine, according to most doctors, is approximately 60 percent effective in preventing the flu.

Because the flu is more contagious than the common cold, thwarting the spread of the virus is difficult.

In addition to receiving the vaccine, doctors suggest that people wash their hands frequently, cough into their shirt sleeves rather than hands, stay home from school or work if sick and consult a doctor immediately if they suspect they have the flu.

On top of their busy schedules, Wake Forest students and teachers have yet one more obstacle to contend with this winter.

 

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