Influenza continues circulation during winter season

Seton Hill Nurse Practitioner Annette Smiach is located on the fifth floor of the Administration building. Photo by A.Shriane/Setonian.

The flu season has been a topic of conversation for a few months. Influenza is a contagious viral infection primarily of the nose, throat and lungs. The increased intensity of the flu is prominent.

The nurse practitioner at Seton Hill University (SHU), Annette Smiach, suggests getting the flu shot. “It’s high and wide spread,” said Smiach. “It is not too late.” Past influenza seasons have lasted as late as May.

She has seen many patients with flu-like symptoms and the majority did not receive the flu shot. Health care providers in general have seen an increase of influenza patients. “It has increased and it is intense,” said Smiach.

“On a college campus, students are living closely together and in a close community, which allows germs to spread quickly and rapidly,” said Smiach.

Unfortunately, it can’t be confirmed if SHU had a flu epidemic since other viral illnesses resemble influenza. Smiach has seen many students with flu-like symptoms, but without cultures to confirm influenza, is not able to differentiate influenza A (H3N2) or influenza B from a viral illness.

One method of testing for the flu is doing a nasopharyngeal swab. This is done by inserting a swab down the nostril into pharynx. Since Health Services is not able to perform cultures at this time, if desired, students can have the test performed elsewhere such as Med Express.

The signs and symptoms of influenza can vary by underlying medical conditions, immune status and age, but present with abrupt, onset high fever, severe body aches and headache, sore or dry throat, severe dry cough and chest discomfort. The flu is caused by a virus; influenza A viruses have been identified most frequently in the U.S. for the 2016-2017 flu season according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

General flu activity has been elevated for the past eight weeks and H3N2 seems to be making people sicker. The predominant flu strain this flu season is H3N2, a subtype of the virus that is isolated. People who received the flu shot can still get the flu; however, symptoms are generally less severe. The shot (influenza vaccine) is 48 percent effective this year.

According to the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), vaccine effectiveness estimates are 43 percent against the predominant influenza A (H3N2) viruses and 73 percent against influenza B viruses.

“That might seem low but it is actually quite good,” said Smiach. “It is higher than previous years.”

There are four strains: strain A (H1N1), strain A (H3N2) and two B strains. In 2016, the predominant strain was A, and this season’s flu shot injected strain A. Many patients have seen Smiach with flu-like symptoms. However, one study suggests there are 320,000 different viruses causing flu-like symptoms.

When diagnosed with influenza, you are contagious one day before the symptoms develop and five to seven days after becoming sick. A stomach virus and Influenza have a lot of the same symptoms and are both viral infections, and the only way to tell the difference is to do a nasopharyngeal culture.

The “stomach bug” symptoms are typically not as severe as influenza symptoms. Typically, the onset of the flu occurs in early October and peaks from late December to early March.

Influenza is a very contagious and intense virus. Getting the flu shot will lower the chances of becoming ill; there is a 42 percent chance of not becoming ill when receiving the influenza shot. The nurse practitioner has vaccinations left and is more than happy to immunize students.

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