Seventh week of influenza, vaccine 10 percent effective

Story by Destinee Marking, Staff writer 

One hundred flu-related deaths have been reported in Kentucky this season, that is 24 more than the total number at the end of last year.

Widespread influenza activity has been reported for seven consecutive weeks.

According to the Kentucky Department for Public Health, there have been 3,872 confirmed flu cases this season.

Amy Ferguson, public health director at Calloway County Health Department, said the number of flu cases, including hospitalization and deaths, is higher this year than last year.

“This year is particularly bad because it is dominated by the H3N2 strain, which tends to be more severe,” Ferguson said. “Severity of flu seasons are very unpredictable in that the flu strains that are circulating may not match the flu strains selected for the vaccine.”

Although this year’s vaccine has been found to only be 10 percent effective, Ferguson said taking this measure is better than not protecting oneself at all.

Main flu strains are classified into three main categories, and Ferguson said H3N2 is categorized as Influenza A. This category contains quick-mutating viruses that most commonly cause illness in humans.

“Influenza A viruses are constantly mutating from one flu season to the next,” Ferguson said. “The genetic changes that occur in the circulating flu virus can go unrecognized by the immune system even if you had a flu shot the previous year. This is why it is recommended to get a flu shot every year.”

Symptoms to be aware of include a cough, sore throat, shaking and chills, fever, body aches, headache, congestion and nausea.

Ferguson said these symptoms can appear quickly, can be severe and can last one to two weeks.

If an individual is experiencing difficulty breathing, pain or pressure in the chest, sudden dizziness or severe vomiting, Ferguson said that is when they should seek medical attention.

With five weeks left of peak flu season, Ferguson said it is important to understand how the virus is spread and how to avoid spreading it.

“Flu viruses are thought to spread mainly from person to person through breathing in or touching droplets from the mouth or nose that are produced from coughing, sneezing or talking,” Ferguson said.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those infected with the flu virus may begin infecting others one day before symptoms even develop.

To avoid infecting yourself and others, Ferguson said wash hands with warm water and soap after touching public surfaces, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer when washing hands is not an option, cover your nose and mouth with a tissue while coughing or sneezing, eat healthy and exercise.

When it comes to lessening the chance of the flu becoming widespread on campus, Kimberly Paschall, director of Health Services, said one of the most important steps students can take is getting the flu vaccine.

“Even if the current vaccine is not an exact match to what is going around, it will lessen the severity of symptoms,” Paschall said.

If a student is experiencing flu-like symptoms, Paschall said they should stay home, drink plenty of water, rest and take over-the-counter flu symptom medications until the fever and other symptoms subside.

Individuals with chronic health conditions, however, should seek medical attention within 48 hours of noticing flu-like symptoms. Paschall said antiviral flu medications, like Tamiflu, will be more effective in reducing symptoms this way.

Medical attention should also be sought if an individual’s symptoms return, Paschall said, because secondary complications from the flu can occur.

If a student with flu-like symptoms visits Health Services, Paschall said a flu test may be performed, and Tamiflu will be suggested. She said over-the-counter medications may also be recommended.

Flu vaccines can be received at Walmart, CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens, Walter’s Pharmacy and Fast Pace Urgent Care in Murray.