The Student Health Clinic has confirmed approximately 88 cases of influenza in less than one month, but Associate Professor of Biology Benjamin Rowley said flu season won’t even hit its peak until late February to early March.
Rowley — who specializes in virology and is the author of “Get Your $&$! Flu Shot” — said that
when there has been a large-scale flu outbreak in the past, there has often been an early wave in October and November, followed by a second wave in February and March.
“Part of this is even school-related,” Rowley said.“When kids come back to school from holiday break … influenza tends to blow up again. You’re bringing a lot of susceptible individuals into close quarters contact with each other, which is a powder keg waiting for a spark.”
Rowley said for each person who gets the flu, two or three more people will also contract it, until there are no longer enough susceptible people around to keep the virus moving through the population.
“This is also why vaccination of as many people as possible is so important,” Rowley said.“Each person vaccinated represents one less person that the virus can infect, which then, indirectly, means two to three fewer people that will pick up the virus from that one person.”
He said this means an influenza outbreak will burn itself out and shut down quickly.
“We call this concept herd immunity — when not enough susceptible individuals are around, the infection can’t keep going in the population, and it gets shut down,” Rowley said. “We need good levels of vaccine acceptance in society to keep herd immunity high, preventing outbreaks from getting worse and hurting the most vulnerable among us.”
He asserted that prevention isn’t just the best solution for an individual — it’s the best solution for society.
“People don’t think influenza is that severe … but real influenza infections can be life-threatening, especially for the very young, the very old or anyone with a chronic health condition,” Rowley said.“So preventing an infection in an otherwise healthy young adult is good medicine for society, because it helps to prevent others who are more susceptible to life-threatening complications from picking it up.”
He said each case of the flu prevented by vaccination is one less chance for the virus to mutate into a more deadly or drug-resistant strain. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website, as of Sept. 28, 2017, 46.2 percent of Arkansans have been vaccinated during the 2016-2017 season.
Student Health Clinical Coordinator Rochelle McFerguson said the Student Health Clinic has already given out all of the 1,500 doses of the influenza vaccine they ordered for the season. Arkansas Department of Health Public Information Officer Meg Mirivel said the ADH has at least one local health clinic in each county that gives free influenza vaccines.
She said primary care physicians and most pharmacies are other outlets where one can get vaccinated.
“The flu shot is not perfect, but it is the best protection from the flu,” Mirivel said. “Although it keeps you from getting the flu, it makes your case more mild if you do happen to get diagnosed with the flu.”
McFerguson said people should start to suspect they may have the flu when they’re not feeling well — most of the time the flu emerges quickly— and they should make an appointment with the Student Health Clinic to get tested.
She said symptoms may include feeling feverish,dizziness, chills, sore throat, coughing, sneezing and sometimes an upset stomach. She said precautions that should be taken include isolating yourself from sick people, washing your hands often and getting the flu vaccine.
McFerguson said if you have been diagnosed with the flu, then make sure you get plenty of rest, fluids, take a fever reducer if needed and isolate yourself. She said if tested positive for influenza, the Student Health Clinic will prescribe patients Tamiflu, which will decrease symptoms and the amount of days patients will be sick.
In addition, the clinic will provide patients with a doctor’s note and strongly encourage you to stay out of class.
Photo by Caroline Bivens.