Spring semester means spring fever, but for now, Minnesota’s intolerable January chilliness is keeping everyone trapped indoors, making it hard to avoid the illnesses spreading around the state. It’s flu season, and this year’s outbreak has been particularly nasty.
This year’s flu season started in December and has already been wreaking havoc. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, 476 people were hospitalized with lab-confirmed influenza during the week of Jan. 6-12, and 1,842 people have been hospitalized with influenza in Minnesota since the start of flu season.
Though getting a flu vaccine now might not be as effective against contracting influenza as having been vaccinated in September, a vaccine still offers some protection against the more nasty symptoms and length of illness. According to the CDC’s early estimates of flu vaccine effectiveness, this year’s vaccine effectiveness is 62 percent, though variance exists among the effectiveness of the vaccine depending on which strains of the flu are contracted (flu A or flu B). It is difficult for public health researchers to determine how long or how severe a flu season will be.
Still, there are steps we can take to protect ourselves against the outbreak. While it may be old fashioned, washing hands, when done thoroughly, is still one of the best ways to keep from coming down with an illness or spreading it to others. And while it’s difficult to miss class this early in the semester, students should consider staying home if they have a cough and fever-like symptoms. It is also possible to get antiviral medication if one goes to the doctor within two days of feeling flu-like symptoms.
Let’s be smart this flu season and hope that while we may get sick of class, we won’t get sick in it.