This year’s flu season has been a devastating one nationwide; six people have died from the flu in Washington State alone, three of whom were from Snohomish
County while the number of hospitalizations, due to the illness, has increased compared to last year’s flu season.
Fatalities from the flu are not restricted to those with underlying medical conditions or chronic illnesses, as was the case last year. A seemingly normal and healthy person is at much risk from dying from the flu, as a weak and unhealthy person this year.
The severity of the flu here in Snohomish County can be understood by comparing the number of hospitalizations, due to the flu, at Swedish/Edmonds in the month of December in 2011 and 2012.
According to Bobbi Ragland, RN and manager of the Employee Health Services at Swedish/Edmonds, these figures are calculated every two weeks. In the first two weeks of December in 2011, zero patients were hospitalized, in stark contrast to the 16 that were in 2012. By the end of the month of 2011, only two were hospitalized, while an additional 14 patients were hospitalized in 2012, just last month.
Initial symptoms of the flu, according to Dr. Bernard Alberda of North Seattle Pediatrics, include, “Fevers of 103-104, scratchy throat, flushed cheeks, muscle pains, and difficulty walking… which lasts about a week.” If you have all these symptoms, you need to stay at home, according to Alberda. If your symptoms persist or worsen, you may need to go see a doctor.
Health officials urge everyone who hasn’t yet, to get the flu shot, as the rate of flu victims who go to the hospital are still high. The severity of this flu season can also be witnessed through the measures that the hospital staff at Swedish/Edmonds take.
Any staff or volunteer at the hospital, who have not gotten the flu shot, must wear masks. Additionally, any patient hospitalized with the flu, is put in isolation.
According to Ragland, three patients were in isolation, when she was questioned on Jan. 15.
The flu vaccine is the best chance one has of preventing infection. Ragland states that, “the flu shots work very well for young people, better than for older people.” So for those younger students who are doubtful of the vaccines, this serves as an encouragement.
Alberda believes that the vaccine prepared is very “appropriate” for this year’s influenza.
There have been reports of spot shortages of the vaccine. However, Sumaiya Ahmed, a volunteer at Swedish/Edmonds and a student at EdCC, said that the hospital is well stocked with the vaccine. Clinics, however do run out of vaccines and have to wait for shipments from the hospital.
Grace Swanson, a student at EdCC, relates to this experience as her father was turned back from the Everett Clinic in Mukilteo without getting a flu shot, due to their depleted stock.
There has been a high demand for FluMist this year, and according to Alberda, North Seattle Pediatrics ran out of those was waiting for a shipment, but the clinic still had a good stock of the vaccines. FluMist is a nasal spray that serves as an alternative to the vaccine.
For those folks who think that it’s too late to get their shot, Ragland has a very clear message: “It’s not too late to get the flu shot!”
She thinks it is important for those who have not gotten the flu shot yet, to do so, as the number of flu cases which come to their hospital is still high, but most of whom are not sick enough to be hospitalized.
In addition to the flu vaccine, when students were asked what they did to prevent themselves from getting the flu, almost all of them said that besides washing their hands a lot, they carried hand sanitizer in their bags at all times.
However, this may not be enough to protect your-self. Alberda said his office sees a lot of college students. The reason behind this is the lack of an appropriate schedule.
They think they can go three or four days without sleep on exam week,” he said. Without sleeping and eating on schedule it messes them up. They think that they’ll be fine, but if you’re here [the doctor’s office], then obviously you’re not fine.”
When asked about his advice to college students, he had one thing to say: “Keep a decent schedule going, a decent schedule of eating and sleeping.”
A few students confirmed the issue of the lack of a decent schedule.
When asked what time she goes to sleep on finals week, Durdana Iqbal, an EdCC student, replied, “two, sometimes 3 a.m.” She said she wakes up the following morning at 6:30. And eating regularly is rarely a part of her schedule.
Ragland had different advice for the college students. She explains that a lot of physical contact is a great transmitter of germs, and emphasizes the importance of washing your hands often.
When asked about what additional measures could be taken at college to help students this flu season, Ahmed replied, “There should be Kleenexes in classrooms…and sanitizers bottles should be refilled more often.”
Published in The Triton Review, Vol. 28, Issue 1, Jan. 28, 2013