The start of the spring semester marks the acceleration of flu season. Protecting oneself against the flu is always important, and Oakland’s dense population warrants increased precaution. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported low overall influenza levels in the United States during December, but it expects activity to increase going forward.
The flu is caused by the influenza virus, which can be spread through coughing, sneezing, and the spread of mucus. It can also be spread by touching a surface or object that has flu virus then touching one’s nose or mouth.
Although flu can occur at any time throughout the year, it mostly occurs from October through May. This period covers most of the University’s school year, so vigilance against the flu is highly important.
Other respiratory diseases, such as the common cold, are often confused with the flu. Although they have similar symptoms – fever, sore throat, runny nose, muscle aches, and chills – the flu is more severe, with a longer duration, and may result in more serious health complications, such as pneumonia. Colds generally don’t create serious health problems. Although a diagnostic test may distinguish cold from flu, most people with flu-like symptoms do not require testing because the results do not typically alter treatment.
According to the CDC, the first and most important way to prevent influenza is an annual flu shot. There is no live virus in the traditional injected vaccine, so receiving it cannot cause the flu. It takes the vaccine two weeks for protection against the flu to begin and provides protection for typically one year. Getting this vaccine is especially important for those with risk factors, such as asthma or diabetes, to prevent developing complications from the flu.
The University of Pittsburgh Student Health Service on the second floor of Nordenberg Hall offers free flu vaccine to all University students.
The flu vaccine may be effective in protecting one from influenza, but it doesn’t completely eliminate the possibility of other respiratory infections; therefore, it’s important to take commonsense measures against infection on a daily basis. Make sure to wash your hands frequently with soap and water or with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, which you can find in many dispensers available around campus. You should also avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth as much as possible since this spreads the flu virus as well as other viruses and bacteria that can cause infection. Cover your nose and mouth with tissue when you cough or sneeze and discard the tissue in the trash immediately. If you know someone who does have the flu, avoid close contact.
These preventative measures are not only important for your health, but for the health of the people around you.
Vaccination is especially important for healthcare workers since they are in daily contact with people with increased risk of complications from the flu. Healthcare workers are also exposed to the virus more frequently and can more easily transmit the virus and its complications to higher-risk patients.
If you work in a hospital and other healthcare facility, be aware of the increased importance of preventing the spread of the flu. Many of the local hospitals require their staff and students who rotate through their facilities to also receive the flu vaccine.
If you contract the flu, limit contact with others to avoid spreading the infection.
“If you get sick with flu-like symptoms, in most cases, the CDC recommends staying home and avoiding contact with other people for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone. You should stay home from work, school, travel, shopping, social events, and public gatherings,” said Dr. Marni Greenwald, assistant medical director at the University of Pittsburgh Student Health Service.
The most common way to fight the flu is to get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids. In most cases this simple treatment is effective, but if it is not, healthcare providers will sometimes prescribe an antiviral medication such as Tamiflu or Relenza. These medications must be taken within a few days following onset of symptoms to be effective.
Oakland is a bustling hub of Pittsburgh, but with its dense population and many healthcare centers, avoiding the flu is a concern for everyone in the neighborhood. While no one can avoid it with 100% certainty, following this advice can aid in prevention.