By Emma Kaohi | The Broadside (Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Flu season: tissue piles become endless, coughs echo the classrooms, and NyQuil becomes your best friend.
What is commonly characterized as a sore throat, fever, chills and headache, the influenza virus may pose a bigger threat than that, responsible for thousands of deaths a year. There are four strains of the influenza virus, A, B, C and D, and the most common amongst humans is viruses A and B, affecting people heavily during the winter months.
“Type A influenza is the most common type this year and the H3N2 strain results in more severe symptoms,” said Karen A Heckert, assistant professor of Health and Human Performance at COCC. Heckert has been teaching at Central Oregon Community college for four years and teaches several HHP classes at the Bend, Redmond, and Madras campus.
Both the A and B viruses have been broken down into subsequent strains, some strains being included in most vaccines.
In previous years, the vaccine has been found to prevent 40 to 60 percent of flu cases. This year, however, the overall estimated effectiveness of the vaccine was 36 percent, according to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention which ran a survey amongst five care centers with outpatient medical facilities.
This season has been heavily dominated by strain A(H3N2), having the most effect on young children and elderly adults, but cases involving other strains have also been reported. Unfortunately, the influenza vaccine usually does not work as well against A(H3N2) viruses.
Being recognized as one of the deadliest seasons thus far in years in the U.S., there have been 63 reports of children who have been died from the flu this year. Even so, the data collected in the CDC’s survey shows that the vaccine was 59 percent effective for children ages six months to eight years.
Ten percent of all newly reported deaths amongst adults in the country were due to influenza, according to the CDC. In addition, the number of those 50 and older who had to receive medical attention due to the flu remained high.
Despite this years’ vaccine having a hard time combatting the A(H3N2) virus, cases involving influenza B and A(H1N1) viruses are increasing and the influenza vaccine works well against those viruses. The CDC continues to argue that the vaccination is still important and urge people to receive a vaccination, even now, with still about 13 weeks left to this year’s season.
“I never got the flu shot and never got sick. I don’t think vaccinations are worth it,” COCC student Able Malone said.
Although it has shown to be less effective, the vaccine may still prevent some flu illnesses, medical visits, hospitalizations and can help the illness be milder.
There’s a misconception that it is better to get the flu rather than the flu vaccine. With children and elderly adults being the primary concern, any form of the flu poses risk for outbreak.
Another misconception centers around the flu shot, causing the flu. “I got the flu shot this year and then got a mild cold. I had a sore throat at first and then a runny nose, but nothing super severe.” said second-year student Samantha Beers.
This misconception was proven false by another study done by the CDC. “Where some people get inactivated flu shots and others get salt-water shots, the only differences in symptoms was increased soreness in the arm and redness at the injection site among people who got the flu shot. “There were no differences in terms of body aches, fever, cough, runny nose or sore throat,” the website states.
The CDC is also pushing for people to use the injected vaccination in comparison to the nasal spray, as the effectiveness of an injected vaccine outweighs the effectiveness of the spray.
“After watching how hard people were hit this year, I’m glad I got the flu shot. It saved me from the really bad head cold a lot of people got,” Beers stated.
Preventing only 36 percent of cases may seem small in comparison to the high average of 60 percent, but any prevention of the spread of this virus is positive. In the 2012-13 flu season, the CDC reported that the vaccination prevented an estimated 3.2 million flu related medical visits, or enough to fill 167 large cruise ships.
“The 36 percent vaccine effectiveness number is an average. As you likely saw from the CDC Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) dated Feb 16, 2018, vaccine effectiveness this year for children ages 1 to 18 is as high as 67 percent and as high as 49 percent among young adults and older adults. Even a 36 percent effectiveness rate saves 100,000s of lives,” Heckert said.
Acknowledging that the flu vaccination is the most direct and best way of preventing the flu, antiviral drugs are also important in the process of stopping the spread. In addition, Heckert added that daily care such as washing your hands and covering your mouth when you sneeze and cough are key prevention methods, “The most important prevention recommendation for someone with flu symptoms is to stay home, to get well (lots of fluids) and to not expose others.”
For more information on the flu and the flu vaccination, visit cdc.gov.
The most important part to preventing the flu is to get the flu vaccine. In addition, there are small steps you can do to avoid coming in contact with the flu virus, such as:
- Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
- While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.
- If you are sick with flu-like illness, CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone, except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Your fever should be gone for 24 hours without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.)
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way.
Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu.
- Take antiflu viral drugs (if prescribed by your doctor).
- Fever (but not everyone with the flu will have a fever)
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Body aches
- Sometimes diarrhea and vomiting
Ways to get better:
- Most people with the flu have mild illness and do not need medical care or antiviral drugs. If you get sick with flu symptoms, in most cases, you should stay home and avoid contact with other people except to get medical care.
- If, however, you have symptoms of the flu and are in a high risk group, or are very sick or worried about your illness, contact your healthcare provider. Source: cdc.gov
Stress, students, and staying well
Many students juggle school, work, social lives, and sometimes more all while trying to fight off the cold or the flu. This kind of combination will only make the dreaded annual flu worse according to Assistant Professor of Health and Human Performance Owen Murphy.
There are two kinds of main pathways that any kind of stress can cause illness. One is directly, Murphy said when anyone gets stressed, psychologically, it activates our “fight, flight or freeze” response when it comes to stress.
“Hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, when they come in contact with our immune cells, that can shut those cells down. Cortisol in particular, if it’s pumping through our veins for days or weeks at a time, has actually been known to unravel our chromosomes, which kind of degrades our neurons in our brain in certain regions,” Murphy said.
Not only can stress alone trigger illness, but coping strategies that go along with stress can make everything worse, “We stop sleeping adequately, we eat junk, we might procrastinate, so we lose sight of the big picture and everything else kind of unravels. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy in that kind of respect,” Murphy explained.
Murphy said he has been sick more than once in 2018, but it is always hard to pinpoint an exact cause with any kind of virus, “It could be a nasty pathogen that you haven’t developed a resistance or an antibody for. Or it could be a combination of other factors, so it’s hard to say.”
To manage the stress paired with getting sick, Murphy advised that eating right, sleeping, and resting is important. “Not just sleep when it comes to rest, but trying to clear the plate,” Murphy said. “I think perhaps the most important thing to do is look objectively at your life and try to organize it in ways that allow you some regular time-outs and some decompression periods so that you’re not constantly stressed out, so your stress hormones have an opportunity to decompress for a bit.”
Eating right can be difficult if you are a student on a budget with limited time to make a home-cooked meal. “You can cook and shop quite affordably if you don’t buy premade food. But in order for that to work, you need time in your schedule to shop and make that food. It kind of boils down to time management and priorities. Everyone is going to be a little bit different in that regard,” Murphy said.
Slowing down and taking a step back to take a break in between things was something that Murphy heavily encouraged. “We have such a fast paced life, most americans won’t take no for an answer. Some students are going to school full time, perhaps working part time or full time, they’ve got social lives outside of that, and sometimes we just need to slow down.
A simple or fast solution to get rid of illness and fight stress might not work for everyone, “It has to fit in financially, it has to fit in with your lifestyle, and I think it’s worthwhile every once in a while to get hit pretty hard and get knocked down so that you can reevaluate why,” Murphy said.
Weird home remedies
Solutions can be as crazy as a large consumption of one thing or depriving yourself of a certain food to putting random vegetables in your sock before you go to bed, but if that one-stop solution worked, that might not be the only factor that contributed to feeling better.
Owen Murphy, assistant professor of Health and Human Performances, explained that one change in a lifestyle to affect an illness can also be one part of a “cascade of behaviors” that helped influence change.
“From a nutritional perspective, people will try to increase consumption of one nutrient or eliminate consumption of others. Like no wheat, no fat, no animal products or no processed foods. If you engage in that behavior, it’s not just that behavior that you’re engaging in. Also along with that, you might have met a great sense of self efficacy or momentum,” Murphy said.
Keep this in mind when trying out remedies for illnesses, but who knows, maybe an onion in your sock will do the trick…
Onions in your sock: “Cut up an onion, place it in your socks, and fall asleep. That’s it. Cured in the morning.” – Emma Kaohi
Vicks Vapor Rub on everything: “On my chest, feet, lower back, everywhere. Vicks is so underrated, I put it on my feet before I sleep and then socks on it. Next morning, I feel so much better!” -Timothy Goodman-Grey
Toast and sleep: “I only eat toast and sleep a lot.orks every time.” – Amanda Roosma
Students can help add to the plethora of remedies for colds that might seem odd, but there are many resources online to find other obscure quick fixes, such as these from www.healthline.com:
Dirty socks: Greasing your throat with lard or chicken fat and then wrapping dirty socks on top. The treatment may have induced sweating, which is believed to help rid the body of germs. This remedy is older, the socks likely labeled people with serious throat ailments. Before powerful drugs and vaccines could wipe out strep and prevent diphtheria, the dirty socks might have warned others to steer clear.
Steam: Add boiling water to a bowl and rest your head above it, so the steam goes all over your face. Covering your head and the bowl with a towel will create a mini steamy sauna and will help get the maximum benefit from this little trick.
Salt gargle: A teaspoon of salt in a cupful of water is considered the optimum quantities. Then a quick gargle, holding the liquid in your throat.
Wet socks: Put on a pair of cold, wet, cotton socks before layering a pair of natural wool socks on top. Then hop into bed and let the wet socks do their thing, apparently. ■