Flu season strikes students

Jessica Allman, Staff Writer

Aches and chills ran down his spine as he sat in the doctor’s office waiting patiently for his diagnosis. Thinking he might just the common cold, senior Bilal Khan was surprised when his doctor told him he had the flu.

Infecting the lungs, throat and nose, the flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by a virus that attacks the immune system. Most doctors believe the flu is airborne and is spread by coughing, sneezing or verbal communication. In some cases, people can contract the flu by touching a surface or an object that has the flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth or face. Common signs and symptoms include chills, having an abnormally high fever, severe cough, sore throat, stuffy or runny nose, muscle and body aches, headaches and fatigue.

The flu is contagious from day one. A person can infect others even before he or she starts to notice their own symptoms and can continue to infect others for a week after becoming sick. The flu varies in its severity from one season to the next depending on what flu virus strain is spreading, the availability of the flu vaccine and how well the vaccine is matched to the strain of flu spreading.

“This has been the busiest flu season we have had in the past three or four years,” CVS pharmacist Bob Lewis said. “There have been a lot more prescriptions for Tamaflu this year. When the national media started reporting that the flu was in epidemic proportions, we had a lot of people coming in for flu shots, up to 80 shots a week.”

The most effective way to prevent the flu is to get the flu vaccination. After receiving the flu shot, antibodies develop in the body to fight it off. Each year, the flu shot is adjusted to protect against the three strains doctors and researchers think will be most common for the year. If the flu is not treated appropriately with plenty of rest and a strong antibiotic, it can lead to further complications such as bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, dehydrations and sinus infections. This year the Center for Disease Control declared the flu national epidemic, meaning that it is widespread and cases have been confirmed in every state.

“The severity of the flu really just depends on the strain each year and if people are getting vaccinated,” Lewis said. “Especially if we go through three or four years of flu that aren’t bad, then people start to be relaxed about getting immunized and that’s when the flu will hit hard.”

The CDC suggests that everyone over the age of 6 months get a flu vaccine each year, but it is especially important for people who are at high risk of getting the flu or who live with someone who is at high risk to get vaccinated. People that are at a higher risk of developing the flu include children younger than the age of 5 and adults older than 65. It is imperative that people living in households with young children or caregivers to young children receive the flu vaccination as well. If one starts to develop flu-like symptoms, the CDC advises seeking medical attention as soon as possible.

After going to the doctor he was told he could go back to school when he no longer had a fever and to get plenty of fluids and rest. Khan was not part of the 40 percent of teens to get the flu shot this year.
“Going to the doctor was very helpful,” Khan said. “He explained to me how contagious and dangerous it is. I believe the flu shot can work to a certain degree, but I know it isn’t 100 percent effective,” Khan said. “I think if I had gotten the flu shot it would have made a difference ─ maybe I wouldn’t have gotten sick.”

Khan said he usually only gets sick one or two times a year. After getting the flu shot, it is normal to have irritation around the area of injection. The flu shot will not fully prevent a person from getting the flu, as the protection does not kick in for two weeks after the time of the injection.  According to the CDC, in past years the flu vaccination had on average a 90 percent effectiveness rate for all ages but it is estimated that that has dropped to 60 percent.

To be exempt from final exams, students cannot have more than four absences per class. Even with the flu, absences still count against the student.

“We go through this every year,” Sub school secretary Christi Hawkins said. “There are those students that come to school even though they’re sick because they want to be exempt. But the exams aren’t that hard, you might as well just stay home and get well instead of getting everyone else sick.”

Nurse assistant Shawn Williams says not to jump to the conclusion that you have the flu if you start to feel sick.

“If you think that you have the flu the first thing you need to do is go to the doctor and let him give you a diagnosis,” Williams said. “If you have the flu you should not being coming to school for any reason, no one wants your sickness.”

The CDC suggests getting a flu shot early and not waiting until others around you become sick.

“We get a big rush of flu shots in late December and early January but you should get it in October,” Lewis said. “The flu seasons tends to run from October to March. If there is an outbreak of the flu like we have this year, you shouldn’t get close to anyone who has the flu. Even washing your hands four times a day with hot water and soap reduces your chances of getting the flu by 50 percect. Use a lot of hand sanitizer and stay hydrated.”