Experts warn against deadly flu strain
Registered nurse Barbara Beatty prepares a flu vaccine for The State News on Jan. 9, 2013 at Olin Health Center. The Olin Health Center also has prepackaged flu vaccinations. Photo illustration by Julia Nagy/The State News
With about 285 confirmed cases of a flu strain that killed four children and adults in Michigan, health professionals said everyone who can get a flu vaccination should.
Experts say those in close contact with large numbers of people, such as students at MSU, are especially at risk for contracting the virus. Despite the hazard, few students have been vaccinated at Olin Health Center this year, Associate Medical Director at MSU Student Health Services Suman Kashyap said.
“There still is a need for finding a way to increase the vaccination rate on campus,” Kashyap said.
Kashyap said out of the large number of students at MSU, only 550 have been vaccinated at Olin Health Center since August, and in the past week Olin confirmed 50 cases of the flu.
“My flus aren’t really too serious,” graduate student Esra Gencarvas said. “I don’t like shots (and) thought I would spare myself the pain.”
For squeamish students such as Gencarvas, Olin also offers nasal vaccinations.
Health Education Coordinator Dennis Martell said huge strides have been made to prevent widespread outbreak by distributing cold and flu packs at residence halls and in clinics, which include tissues, cough drops, cold and flu information, and more.
“There’s been a higher volumes of (influenza) cases earlier in the season,” said Angela Minicuci, Michigan Department of Community Health spokeswoman.
Minicuci said young adults need to know their bodies are not fully protected from the flu until two weeks after receiving a shot, although there still are some risks of illness even after vaccinations.
She said students can prevent most illnesses by getting the vaccination — which covers the most common types of flu this season — as well as by washing their hands frequently and cleaning common surfaces with disinfectant.
“It’s still a good time to get a flu shot,” Sparrow Hospital Director of Infection Prevention and Epidemiology Robin Roach. “And if you’re ill, please don’t go out in public.”
Roach said although there are more cases of flu than last year, “this year really hasn’t gotten to an epidemic level yet,” and most people sick with the flu this season have cases that can be treated by rest at home.
Medical Director of the Ingham County Health Department Sugandha Lowhim said this year’s flu season has not reached the high levels such as that in 2003 to 2004, but the widespread “flu activity” already reached 5.6 percent in late December.
Lowhim said last year the activity level peaked at 2.2 percent.
Martell said it is especially important that students prepare and defend themselves against the flu because in last year’s lighter flu season, about 50 percent of students reported having a cold or flu, and one in three students that did become sick reported the illness had a negative impact on their academics.
“Bottom line is we want them to be successful and it’s hard to be at your full academic capacity when you have the flu,” Martell said.