Influenza epidemic hits F&M, 64 student cases reported

BY KENDRA POIRIER ’15
Contributing Writer

According to Dr. Amy Myers, 64 cases of the flu have been reported to Appel Infirmary since the beginning of the semester, a number significantly higher than in previous years.

People suspected to have the flu are instructed to enter Appel through side entrance to limit potential spread within waiting area. Once through the side door, potentially infected persons are instructed to check in and put on a mask.

Influenza is a virus that causes respiratory illness in infected persons. There are three types of influenza strains: A, B, and C. The virus this year is an A-strain, which is generally more severe and more common. The A virus works by binding to the surface of cells and releasing genetic material in the form of RNA into the cell’s nucleus.

The virus then replicates itself and takes over the cell, allowing it to spread. Flu symptoms usually begin suddenly 1-5 days after initial exposure, and usually last for 2-7 days. Common symptoms generally include fever, cough, headache, muscle aches, and fatigue.

Influenza is spread through air droplets from one infected person to another, usually through coughing or sneezing.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the flu infects between five to 20 percent of the U.S. population.

Generally, the flu affects the immunocompromised, meaning pregnant women, the very young, and the elderly are most susceptible. However, according to Kirk Miller, an epidemiology professor at F&M, college students may have some elevated risk due to close living quarters and questionable health habits.

Flu strains vary from year to year; H3N2v is the flu virus the CDC identified this season. The new virus is different from previous H3N2 human infections because it contains parts of the 2009 H1N1 virus.

As of this week, the flu is considered widespread throughout Pennsylvania. This season approximately 2,744 hospitalizations have been reported in PA, with the elderly accounting for 70 percent of hospitalizations. Over 30,286 labpositive cases have been reported for the state of PA. In Lancaster County, 1,427 flu cases have been reported and eight deaths have occurred since October 2012. For the state of Pennsylvania, 123 deaths have occurred — 108 of them being people older than 65.

Worried about catching the flu? The CDC outlines three ways you can prevent the disease. First and foremost, get vaccinated. This year’s vaccine is 62 percent effective against the flu. Second, take everyday precautions to stop the spread of germs. Avoid close contact with sick people, and cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing. And those hand-washing skills you learned in kindergarten? Bring them back! Finally, if you feel sick, avoid contact with other people.

Questions? Email kendra at kpoirier@fandm.edu.

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