Flu season strikes again

PIGGOTT

PIGGOTT

Emily Harper

Flu cases on campus have been known to increase in February, but by using preventative techniques students can halt the spread of the illness and avoid getting sick.

The typical flu season is January through March. Although it appears the number of flu cases is already declining, there is still the possibility it will pick back up, said Kevin Piggott Ph.D., medical director for Marquette County Health Department. Piggott emphasized the flu’s ability to quickly evolve by making small changes in the virus’ genes. These changes create viruses that are related to one another but different enough that the immune system is unable to prevent sickness. The pattern of flu season can be unpredictable at times because of these small changes. 

“This year we started seeing influenza earlier,” Piggott said. “This year has been primarily influenza B although that is starting to shift across the nation. For us, the identification is more influenza A currently.” 

The main types of influenza that cause seasonal flu are A and B viruses. Flu shots protect against both strains, with the main difference between the two being transmissibility. Influenza A is able to spread more rapidly. 

The flu virus primarily spreads human-to-human when people cough or sneeze, creating tiny droplets that land on surrounding people and surfaces within a 6-foot radius. The virus has the potential to be contagious for up to two days on hard surfaces. It is recommended people have hand sanitizer available and wash their hands frequently. Good hand hygiene and vaccination is key to avoiding the flu, Piggott said.

 “It comes down to our own personal hygiene and sanitation measures and I’m not talking about deodorant,” Piggott said. “We need to be washing our hands properly. It’s not just throwing your hands under the water.”

Piggott defined proper handwashing as wetting the hands, washing them with soap for 15 to 30 seconds and turning the faucet off with the paper towel. 

When sick, students should minimize their exposure to others. Those with a fever over 100 degrees should stay in their room until the fever is gone for 24 hours. When they cough or sneeze, they should do so into the elbow or a Kleenex, Piggott said.

Christopher Kirkpatrick Ph.D., a physician and medical director for the NMU Ada B. Vielmetti Health Center, predicts there will be an increase in flu cases this year.

“This has been a typical year for us. We have only had about 10 confirmed flu cases at this point,” Kirkpatrick said. “We have not seen a large volume of people with the flu yet. Usually I see it more around February or March.”  

The Vielmetti Health Center has a flu test done via nasal swab and can be completed in 10 to 15 minutes. Students with the flu will likely have symptoms of high fever, chills, cough, sore throat, body aches, fatigue, runny nose and occasional intestinal irritation. If the test is positive, the physician can prescribe a medication called Tamiflu, which is effective only within 48 hours after the onset of symptoms.

“The frustrating thing about the flu is that although we have medicines that we can give you within the first two days of symptoms to decrease how severe it is and how long it lasts, we don’t have anything to cure the flu,” Kirkpatrick said.

Flu immunizations are still recommended and can be given at the Vielmetti Health Center.