By Sheba Antony
Published: February 21st, 2018
The travesty of the current flu season is inching closer and closer to home, as news outlets reported the flu-related death of a 5-year-old in Canarsie, Brooklyn just a week ago. With about three months remaining in this season, the best protection is ultimately staying up to date with the latest information and taking professional opinions seriously—and perhaps, visiting the Brooklyn College Health Clinic.
The Brooklyn College Health Clinic provides students with free vaccinations and tips on how to stay safe this flu season. According to Ilene Tannenbaum, the director of the clinic, there has been an increase this season in both the number of students the clinic diagnosed with the flu as well as those concerned they may have it.
“We are also finding more students who previously have declined flu shots now requesting vaccination,” Tannenbaum said.
The Health Clinic has shown to be a go-to destination for sick and concerned students; as of last week, the clinic has given 176 flu shots this season.
Coined by the New York Times as the worst flu season in nearly a decade, the number of flu-related incidences and hospitalizations continues to increase in the US. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the 2014-2015 flu season, 34 million Americans got the flu, 710,000 were hospitalized and 56,000 died.
The 2017-2018 flu season looks to either match or surpass these numbers; 84 children have died so far. As noted in The Economist, pneumonia and influenza caused nearly 10 percent of all deaths in the week ending Jan. 13, which exceeds the definition for an epidemic as used by the CDC. A more recent report from the CDC said the number of states reporting heavy flu patient traffic also held steady at 43, giving hope that the flu season could be leveling off.
As of Feb. 9, the infection rate—the percentage of all patients experiencing flu-like symptoms visiting doctors in a particular week—tracked by the CDC’s Outpatient Influenza-like Illness Surveillance Network was 7.7 percent, which equals the peak of the 2009 “swine flu” pandemic. According to the NY Times, Senator Chuck Schumer asked the federal government to appoint a “domestic flu surveillance team” to collect data to better target the flu.
This year’s dominant virus, H3N2, is not a new virus or strain like the “swine flu” outbreak in 2009. H3N2 is the most lethal of the seasonal strains and has been around for 50 years. The efficacy of this year’s flu shot has yet to be calculated for this particular strain, but it is estimated to be about 30 percent. Doctors continue to highly recommend getting vaccinated because it may lessen the duration and severity of the illness.
Tannenbaum strongly advises students to be vaccinated for the flu, especially those with underlying medical conditions.
“Even among healthy individuals, the flu can be a serious and devastating disease,” Tannenbaum said.
She also made sure to differentiate between side effects of the vaccine and actual symptoms of the flu.
“Some people believe the flu vaccine causes illness, but this is a fallacy: there have been many large-scale studies that demonstrate that people do not get the flu from the flu shot,” Tannenbaum said. “The primary symptoms attributed to the flu vaccine are soreness, redness or swelling in the area where the shot was given. It’s possible, but far less common, that one might experience muscle aches, low-grade fever or headaches from vaccination…[and these symptoms] typically resolve the following day. This is nothing compared to either the symptoms or duration of the flu!”
The flu vaccine has been found to be more effective than expected, federal health officials said last week at a special news conference held to discuss the dangerous flu season.
Flu activity has been rated as “high” throughout most of the country. Almost all state departments, excluding Hawaii and Oregon, have reported “widespread” flu activity. Statistics for the third week of January alone reported 7,779 confirmed influenza cases and 1,759 hospitalizations in New York, which have been noted to be the highest reported weekly numbers since 2004, according to the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH).
In New York City, there has been a 33 percent increase in patients sent to the hospital since the start of the flu season when compared to the previous flu season. Hospitalization rates presage death rates, so there is gravity in this data. The NY Times notes that NYC hospitals have been notably more crowded as their emergency departments try to meet demands.
Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order on Jan. 25 to permit pharmacists to administer vaccines to children between the ages of 2 and 18 in order to make vaccinations more available for NYC children.
“With flu cases reaching epidemic proportions in New York, we must do everything in our power to fight this virus and keep New Yorkers safe,” Cuomo said. “Once again, I urge all New Yorkers to help us combat this quick-spreading strain of flu and make sure they and their loved ones are vaccinated.”
The CDC recommends that those who are sick should be treated as early as possible with flu antiviral drugs. Antiviral drugs work best when started within two days of symptoms first appearing. In addition to all the doctor recommendations, those who have the flu can combat it by staying hydrated, resting, preventing further complications by not laying flat all day and avoiding over-the-counter medications that aim to suppress a cough or dry out sinuses.
Brooklyn College students should take advantage of the resources and health professionals available at the Brooklyn College Health Clinic. It’s right on campus, open Monday through Thursday, and can be an invaluable resource to the BC community.