By Megan Snow ‘20
*The online version of this story has been updated because Hamel Health does not currently provide flu shots*
It’s that time of year again; people are sneezing, coughing, and using hand sanitizer like there is no tomorrow. Usually the flu season passes by with most of us avoiding the unfortunate luck of getting the flu, but this year is different. The CDC announced that the United States is showing widespread flu activity for the first time in over thirteen years, meaning it’s officially a flu epidemic.
Influenza is a very common disease, but if symptoms go untreated the flu can be deadly for certain age groups, specifically very young children, and elderly individuals. There has been a total of 63 pediatric deaths since the beginning of flu season this year. Because the flu weakens the immune system, people who do not get treated for flu symptoms are more likely to contract other illnesses, such as pneumonia. Young children are especially susceptible to the flu because their immune systems are still developing.
Michaela Casey, a senior at Merrimack, got the flu a week into the spring semester. “It made me feel terrible, exhausted and like I was in a daze,” she said, “I went to the minute clinic the day after I started to get sick.” Casey is one of many students who got the flu shot this year. “I don’t regret getting the flu shot, even though I was told it’s only 30% effective. The side effects were minimal and it potentially protected me from suffering possible complications that the flu can cause.”
Progression of the flu through the 2017-2018 flu season (CDC.org)
There are different strains of the flu every year during flu season. A strain is a subtype of a virus that causes an illness. The past couple of years, Influenza C has been the most prominent strain of the flu causing illness throughout the United States, but this year, it’s strain Influenza A. Flu tests from hospitals and doctor’s offices all over the country are collected to verify what strain appears most over the population. When a strain is prevalent in a population of people, the flu vaccine gets tweaked to accommodate how those specific strains attack the immune system. Because the vaccine is currently working to prevent strain C, it is not as effective at preventing strain A. Although the current flu vaccine is not as effective as it has been in the past, public health officials still recommend getting vaccinated.
Arpi Parseghian is one of many Merrimack students who got a flu shot during the beginning of flu season. “It was really easy,” she said, “I just went to a CVS in Lawrence and it was very quick.”
Flu vaccines are meant to reduce the flu by 40 to 60 percent every flu season, which begins in October and ends in mid-March. Hamel Health sponsors flu clinics on campus twice in the fall but does not offer the flu shot at this time. However, you can get the flu shot at pharmacies and walk-in clinics close to campus. Symptoms of the flu include fever, muscle aches, fatigue, headaches, vomiting, sore throat, or diarrhea. The flu can be easily transmittable through bodily fluids such as mucus or saliva when people sneeze or cough. Touching an unclean surface and encountering the virus can also be a way of passage into the body.
If you become sick, it’s important to get medical help and receive proper treatment, which can help lessen the symptoms of the flu and prevent complications. Luckily, for Merrimack students, there are many places within walking distance of campus.
Living on campus in a crowded dorm room makes it almost impossible to avoid the flu, but here are some tips to stay healthy during flu season:
- Wash your hands frequently, or use hand sanitizer when washing hands with soap and water is not an option; germs can spread very easily, especially among college students in small spaces.
- Get the flu shot; there are plenty of places on campus and off campus that offer the flu shot, which is covered by most insurance plans.
- Limit the amount of contact you have with sick individuals; if your roommate is sick, avoid catching the flu by doing homework somewhere other than your dorm room.
- Wash and disinfect areas in your room that have encountered flu germs: light switches, door knobs, TV remotes, etc; this reduces your risk of picking up the flu virus. The help desk at the Sakowich Campus Center is giving out free flu kits to help prevent spreading the flu, take one while heading to class or getting a sub in the Den!
Here is a list of places that will administer the flu shot, offer appointments with on-site doctors, or fill prescriptions: CVS (Open 24 hours; Pharmacy: 8 a.m. to 12 a.m.) on Turnpike Street or Rite Aid (Monday-Saturday 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.) is a quick walk down the street and has everything you need to fight a cold or the flu. AFC Urgent Care (Monday-Friday 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 8 a.m. to 5p.m.) is in the Chipotle plaza and has plenty of medical professionals available for appointments.