This year’s flu season is on a path to becoming the most severe in nearly a decade, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The severity of the flu outbreak is attributed to the prevalence of a particularly aggressive and vaccine-resistant strain of flu, H3N2. Estimates say the flu season is currently peaking, and will likely continue for several more weeks.
At Boston University, with a high population of young people living close together, an epidemic of this sort could have a significant impact on student health.
According to Dr. Ali Raja, executive vice chairman of emergency medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, infants and geriatric patients are at the highest risk for infection with H3N2. However, young adults are particularly susceptible as well.
College dormitories and libraries, where people live and work in close proximity, increase flu contraction, Raja said. College environments are often populated by students under a high level of stress, which can also lead to increased susceptibility to disease, according to a study done at Carnegie Mellon University.
BU is taking steps to prepare students and faculty for the especially dangerous flu season.
“Since it’s been a very active flu season, we want to make sure people are protected,” said Steve Morash, director of emergency management at BU. “We have been doing our due diligence and taking the precautions that we always do, but paying particular attention this year because it’s a very strong flu.”
BU Student Health Services holds an inoculation clinic at the beginning of each semester for students who may need to update their vaccinations. This year, SHS made the decision to add an additional clinic exclusively for the flu.
In the past, flu clinics were only offered during the first semester, but because of concerns over the epidemic, Emergency Services made them available to students later in the year.
Despite the flu vaccine being less effective this year, Raja said, it is still important to be vaccinated.
“The flu shot is only about 30 to 40 percent effective this year. People hear that and think ‘why bother?’ and then we end up getting more sick patients, because they haven’t gotten the flu shot,” Raja said. “It’s important to realize that 30 to 40 percent is a lot better than zero percent.”
Raja said MGH has had almost three times as many flu patients in the emergency department as they did at this time last year.
“For us, that increase in volume means we have to focus on placing more patients in isolation and admitting more patients to the hospital,” he said
For students, Raja said, one of the most important things to remember during flu season is to avoid passing on the illness if you get it.
“The more you try to work and fight through it, the longer it will take to get better,” Raja said.
“If you show up to a class because you think you absolutely have to be there, even though you have symptoms of the flu, it’s a problem for both you and the people who will be exposed.”
Students appear to be taking advantage of the precautions, with many showing up to the clinic because of concerns over the severity of the epidemic. Last week at the clinic, lines of students stretched through FitRec.
“In the past, I haven’t regularly gotten a flu shot, and I have actually gotten the flu before,” said Ashray Mohan, a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. “But in the past it hasn’t been as severe, and there haven’t been stories about people dying on the news. But now there are, so this year I decided to go in.”
While this season is especially severe, most recommended precautions are typical.
“The flu is a serious [disease], but the usual stuff is important, too — not coughing on people, washing their hands, getting enough sleep,” Morash said. “Students should continue to do what they always do to keep healthy.”