Story by Reginal Fields | Additional reporting by Haley Humphrey
Photo by JaNae Williams
The number of flu-related deaths in Oklahoma this season has risen to 173 since September 2017, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health’s Feb. 22 flu update. With classes back in session, Rose State students, faculty and staff are more susceptible to the virus.
Most health care providers state the flu virus can be spread by coming into contact with a person with the flu or through contact with the germs in which the flu resides. Schools are especially susceptible to the spreading of illness because of the close quarters and shared workspaces.
Influenza is a contagious virus that mainly affects the nose, throat, lungs and air passages.
Senior citizens, young children, pregnant women and caregivers (teachers, health care workers and childcare providers) are groups that are most likely to contract the flu. They should take extra measures to protect themselves from contracting the influenza virus during the flu season, which began in September and continues through May.
Individuals are encouraged to keep their hands sanitized, avoid touching their eyes or nose and get plenty of rest and good nutrition. It is also advised that hard surfaces be sanitized frequently.
However, according to doctors, the best defense is the flu vaccination. The flu shot is still available at most doctors’ offices and pharmacies in the metro area, and most insurances cover the full cost of the vaccination. According to a local pharmacist, the flu shot becomes the most effective after two weeks.
Symptoms of the flu can set in from one to five days after infection, and last for one to two weeks and can range in severity. According to the Centers for Disease Control, this is the most cases of the flu doctors have seen in more than a decade, with more than 2,000 individuals being hospitalized in the state of Oklahoma alone. However, some individuals will not experience any symptoms but could still be carriers and spread the virus.
Not everyone needs medical care or drugs to get through a mild flu case. High fever, nausea, headaches and chills are common symptoms. Rapid or very labored breathing, bluish skin color and decreased social interaction are serious symptoms and may mean a need for medical attention.
A recent study at the University of Maryland School of Public Health showed people can be contagious without having signs of the illness.
“People with [the] flu generate infectious aerosols (tiny droplets that stay suspended in the air for a long time) even when they are not coughing, and especially during the first days of illness,” said Professor Donald K. Milton, who holds doctorates in medicine and philosophy as well as lead researcher of the University of Maryland study. “When someone is coming down with influenza, they should go home and not remain in the workplace and infect others.”
According to the Oklahoma State Department of Health, there are two formulations of the flu vaccine for the 2017-2018 flu season: Trivalent and quadrivalent.
The trivalent vaccine contains three strains that are considered most likely to spread in the United States. Trivalent protects via a standard dose for those aged 6 months and older or a high dose recommended only for those age 65 years and older.
Quadrivalent, as the name suggests, protects against four strains of influenza, with a standard dose for children as young as 6 month.
Those most susceptible are encouraged to receive the flu vaccine. Individuals can also strengthen their immune system by limiting exposure to the elements, reducing stress levels and increasing physical fitness. A humidifier has also been shown to decrease the risk of the flu because the virus prefers dry climates.
Those who contract the flu should drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration and satisfy any appetite with crackers, toast and rice. Avoid public places and social events until the symptoms are gone.
“Out of an abundance of caution for the health of Rose State staff and faculty, an email was released from the Rose State Administration on Jan. 23, 2018,” said Tamara Pratt, Vice President of External Affairs and Marketing at Rose State. “The message was simple, reminding everyone of the flu epidemic and to be cautious about reporting to work sick.”
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