Flu season expected to get worse as spring semester starts

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Photo Credit: Mel Westfall | Daily Texan Staff

Students returning to campus after winter break run the risk of getting the flu after more than 8,000 people in Texas have tested positive for influenza since October — more than six times as many as last year’s flu season — according to the Department of State Health Services.

University Health Services has seen a relatively high percentage of influenza and influenza-like illness diagnoses out of the total number of primary care visits in the past two weeks, according to Kathy Mosteller, UHS director of nursing services. Mosteller said UHS expects the numbers to increase in the next few weeks as students start the spring semester.

“(Students) come back to campus, they’ll be around other people who have the flu, people who are worried about missing class so they’re going to class and coughing,” Mosteller said. “Next week we’ll start getting a lot of phone calls … but this is very predictable. It’s nothing unusual about this year’s flu, so far.”

According to the Center for Disease Control, this season’s flu vaccine is predicted to be around 30 percent effective, similar to last year’s vaccine. Jiwon Lee, a postdoctoral fellow researching on flu vaccine, said flu shots are sometimes ineffective due to the nature of the influenza virus as a rapidly evolving virus.

“Every year, three or four different flu strains are selected to be included in the seasonal flu vaccine,” Lee said in an email. “Sometimes, there are mismatches, meaning the virus strain widely circulating during the year is different from the ones included in the vaccine, leading to ineffectiveness of the vaccine.”

Despite getting a flu shot in October, Leo Angulo caught the flu the day after Christmas. Angulo, a biochemistry and psychology junior, said he also saw a number of his friends and family members getting the flu.

“You think sometimes your friends are like pulling your leg or make excuses to not hang out but no, people actually were sick,” Angulo said. “Then people ask me like do you want to do something … and I’m like no, I’m sick.”

Angulo said he caught the flu because getting the vaccine does not guarantee protection.

“The flu shot can only do so much, but you still have to take care of yourself,” Angulo said. “It’s not like a magic wand where it just says ‘flu disappear.’”

Mosteller said the flu has been widespread this season because less people tend to get their flu shot following a mild flu season.

“We see shorter lines and fewer numbers (in our outreach clinics) if the previous season was mild and if the weather was mild,” Mosteller said. “Nobody is thinking of flu when it’s 85 degrees outside. They’re thinking it’s not winter yet.”

Although the flu vaccine needs improvement, Mosteller advised students that it is not too late to get vaccinated, because it helps to prevent the spread of the virus.

“If more people get the flu vaccine, we’re protecting more people in the population,” Mosteller said. “That’s a phenomenon called the herd immunity.”

Mosteller said students should also take other preventative measures such as coughing into their sleeves or shoulders, washing hands often and using alcohol-based hand rubs. Students should stay at home and contact their professors if they have flu symptoms, Mosteller said.