Deadly Flu Season Prompts Extra Precautions

Connor Gorry / The Triton

This year’s flu season is one of the worst in recent years, causing UC San Diego to restrict visitor access in its hospitals and Student Health Services (SHS) to notify students of flu procedures to minimize the spread of the influenza virus.

UCSD Health took precautionary measures earlier this flu season by prohibiting children under the age of 12 from visiting all parts of the hospital except for the childbirth rooms, though some restrictions were placed in childbirth rooms as well. Certain parts of the hospital, such as all Intensive Care Units, all Progressive Care Units, and the Blood and Marrow Transplant in Jacobs Medical Center, require flu screening of adult visitors, and only allow two adults at a time. Any visitor that has flu symptoms is given a mask and asked to leave. These changes began December 20, 2017 and will be reviewed in the spring.

SHS also released a notice on January 19, warning students of rising number of flu cases in the county. The announcement included descriptions of flu symptoms, instructions on what to do if students contract the flu, and tips on how to prevent the flu. The site also mentions a national shortage of Tamiflu, an antiviral prescription drug that can treat people with the flu, so it may take two or three weeks to obtain the medicine.

The flu, caused by the influenza virus, infects the nose, the throat, and sometimes the lungs. The illness is easily passed through tiny droplets when someone who has the flu talks, coughs, or sneezes. Young children, pregnant women, people 65 years of age or older, and people with chronic medical conditions are at greatest risk of developing more serious flu complications, such as pneumonia, bronchitis, and sinus infections.

Students can obtain vaccinations from the Student Health Nurses Clinic. Flu vaccines that are given usually protect against the three most common influenza viruses: influenza A (H1N1), influenza A (H3N2), and one type of influenza B. Despite issues with the vaccine protecting against the H3N2 virus, vaccinations are still effective against the other two main viral strains. This is especially important because of the possible peak in influenza B cases later this flu season.

“We continue to recommend the flu vaccine [because] even though we know most flu vaccines have low effectiveness against H3N2 viruses, effectiveness against other flu viruses is better, and there is more than one flu virus circulating this season,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, acting director of the Center for Disease Control (CDC), in a press release on February 2. “The vaccine may also reduce the severity of symptoms if you catch the flu in spite of being vaccinated, and it is not too late to get the vaccine.”

In this flu season so far, 231 flu-related deaths and 15,135 cases have been reported in San Diego County, with 87 percent of deaths involving people at least 65 years of age. This is the highest number of recorded influenza deaths in the county; the 2014–2015 season, which held the previous record, had 95 deaths.

San Diego County reached a peak in late December with 3,353 cases, a majority caused by the influenza A (H3N2) strain. However, from January 28 to February 3, the county saw a spike in influenza B cases, with 835 influenza cases during the week and 40 percent of those cases caused by influenza B.

The CDC advises people to wash their hands frequently, avoid people who are sick, and cover coughs or sneezes in order to minimize chances of being infected. If sick, it is recommended to stay at home to avoid infecting others. The time range of contagion can begin a day before symptoms show to a week after symptoms show. The flu can be confused with the common cold, another viral illness, but distinguishing aspects of the flu include a sudden contraction of symptoms, a fever, aches, chills, fatigue, and headaches.

Cynthia Leung is a staff writer at The Triton.