Have a case of the sniffles, some body aches, developing a fever? Join the club — it’s going around.
A particularly powerful strain of the influenza virus, or what is commonly known as the flu, is circulating through campus (and the rest of the country) this year, leading to increased hospitalizations, missed classes and a community susceptible to infections that can sideline people for days at a time.
Stony Brook University health experts are responding.
President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. M.D., a specialist in infectious disease, recently sent out a strong reminder for everyone to get their free flu vaccine from Stony Brook’s Student Health Services as a key to warding off illness.
“The flu can be spread easily from person to person, therefore, we are urging everyone in the campus community to take steps to prevent the spread of the flu at Stony Brook University,” President Stanley wrote in an email that went out to all students, faculty and staff. “This year’s flu virus is particularly virulent, and the CDC strongly recommends vaccination as the best-known protection.”
And there’s more you can do. Besides getting the flu vaccination, the Center for Disease Control and Student Health Services recommends preventing the seasonal flu with these seven tips:
- Wash Your Hands Frequently: Frequent handwashing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds helps to keep germs away. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
- Cover Your Mouth and Nose: Practice respiratory etiquette by covering your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your elbow, not into your hands.
- Keep Your Hands Off Your Face: Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth; germs are spread this way.
- Clean Your Home with Disinfectants Regularly: Frequently clean your living quarters and commonly-used surfaces, such as doorknobs, refrigerator handles, remote controls, computer keyboards, countertops, faucet handles, and bathroom areas.
- No Sharing When Eating: Do not share drinking glasses or utensils.
- Seek Help and Expert Advice: If you are a residential student and think you have the flu, notify your Resident Assistant and contact the Student Health Center for instructions and care.
- Don’t Go Out and Socialize: Stay home if you are sick. Do not go to class until your fever is gone for at least 24 hours. Contact your professors to inform them that you have the flu and find out if you are able to get an extension on assignments that may be due.
The CDC reports that the flu is now widespread in 46 states, nearly four times as many compared with this time last year. They reported that during the week of January 20 was the first time in the past 15 flu seasons that all states in the entire continental US reported widespread flu activity during the same week. During the same week, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s office reported a record high number of flu cases and hospitalizations in New York State, with 1,759 people hospitalized due to the flu.
According to the CDC, the flu is a contagious respiratory illness that can cause mild to severe illness. Serious outcomes of the flu can result in hospitalization or even death. Most agree that the most important step in preventing the flu is to get a flu vaccination.
“The predominant virus this season is Influenza A (H3N2), which has contributed to an increase in hospitalizations, especially among those with pre-existing health conditions,” Dr. Hymes, a board-certified infectious disease physician at Stony Brook Hospital explained. “People at higher risk for flu complications include elderly people, young children, pregnant women and people with chronic medical conditions, such as asthma, heart disease and diabetes.”
Symptoms of the flu often start suddenly and include fever, chills, coughing, sneezing, sore throat, stuffy nose, body aches, headache and fatigue.
“The problem with the flu is that it is very contagious and you can give it to somebody else 24 hours before you know that you even have it,” Dr. Bettina Fries, chief of Stony Brook’s medicine division of infectious diseases said. As an expert in infectious disease, Dr. Fries has been speaking with local reporters about the outbreak and says it is difficult to contain the flu from a public health point of view.
Many doctors at Stony Brook University Hospital say they are seeing a big increase in patients being admitted to the emergency room for the flu in recent weeks. Dr. Fries says beds are filling up largely because the H3N2 flu strain, which is not particularly a deadly strain, is more dominant this year than previous years. “The cold temperatures add to compromising people’s immune defenses,” Dr. Fries explained. “If you don’t have good immunity in the community then you are going to have higher levels of the flu and see a spread of the infection.”
The flu vaccine takes approximately 7-10 days to begin working. According to Dr. Fries, in many cases the flu shot is a combination of four deadly strains, two A strains and two B strains. The vaccine stimulates the immune system so that it makes antibodies that, when exposed to the virus, can fight it quickly and kill the virus without antiviral medication.
President Stanley assured that the campus will be monitored and will keep everyone updated with new information as it becomes available. “It is not too late; talk with your health care provider about whether you should be vaccinated for seasonal flu,” he said.
For more information about the flu in our community, visit http://www.stonybrook.edu/flu/ or call 1-800-CDC-INFO.
— Suzanne Mobyed