The Harbinger Online

Flu Season Creates Spike in Absence

As reports of the flu rise around the country, so do absence rates at East. Jody Gustafson, the Attendance Centerpage3sidebar clerk, said that she has been seeing around 200 students absent a day for the last two and a half weeks. This is 35 students more than are usually absent. Although not all of those absences are illness-related, Gustafson has seen a lot more students calling in sick during this time of year.

Dr. Angela Myers, an infectious diseases specialist at Children’s Mercy Hospital, attributes the increase in cases of the flu to the weakness of the vaccine and the strength of this year’s strain of influenza.

The influenza virus has the ability to change its genetic material. This change in the genetics of the virus is called a drift which allows the strain to rev up its potency and in turn affect a larger body of people. According to Myers, the flu this year has drifted so far from last year that the human body can’t adapt and fight the new strain.

“This year’s strains have drifted enough that people don’t have very much immunity from previous years,” Myers said.

According to Myers, another reason for this year’s widespread flu cases is because of a weaker vaccine.

“The vaccine this year is only about 62 percent effective and so people that got the vaccine are still at risk for getting the influenza,” Myers said. “Generally [people who got the vaccine] don’t get as sick but they still have some risk to get the infection,”

Sophomore Garrett Bloom was one person who received the flu vaccine and still contracted the flu.

“I’m now realizing that it seems like it was a waste of time to get the flu shot and have it not take effect, or just take effect in a minor way,” Bloom said.

Bloom was sick for two days of school but had a lingering cough for almost two weeks afterwards. That cough was just one of several other common symptoms of the flu Bloom exhibited. Common symptoms of the flu include high fever, aching muscles, chills, headache, fatigue and nasal congestion. These symptoms are some of the reasons Myers stresses the importance of getting vaccinated even though it’s not 100 percent.

“It’s important to protect yourself and it’s important to protect other people.” Myers said.

The elderly, young children, people with asthma and people going through chemotherapy are more susceptible to the virus, and it can have a greater effect on them. While not everyone is in the high-risk category Myers said that everyone who can should still get vaccinated because the flu can come with other complications like pneumonia, for those in the high-risk categories.

High school students can also be more susceptible to the illness because of the time spent in close quarters at school.

“It’s really important to think about it on a global sense, or a community sense, of protecting others,” Myers said.

The 2012 vaccine is still available and is effective until June. Pharmacist Debra Richmond at Bruce Smith Drug Store says that in addition to the flu vaccine, people should take extra care in the winter months to help prevent illness.

“Wash your hands with soap and water,” Richmond said. “Wash them thoroughly.Then avoid contact. Don’t drink out of other people’s sodas, don’t share food.”

Richmond said that they have seen a lot of cases of the influenza at the pharmacy this season. She said the treatment for the influenza varies. Prescription antiviral medication Tamiflu is usually the first medication used to help treat the flu.

“[Tamiflu] helps decrease the severity and lessen the duration of [the influenza.]” Richmond said.

Myers said that it is really important to come into the doctor within the first 48 hours of contracting the flu because the antiviral medications stop being as effective after two days.

After the first 48 hours are over Richmond said that the drug store will suggest certain over-the-counter medications to treat the symptoms.

“We’ll [recommend] cough suppressants to treat the coughing, [we’ll recommend] fever-reducers such as Tylenol to reduce fever and body aches.”

Richmond said that she thinks the flu has still yet to peak and that they will probably be seeing more cases in the next month.

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