Sickness greets spring semester

Freshman Melissa Bassett missed the first week of class this semester. She caught the flu the day before school began.

“I started not feeling well at bid day, and when I woke up Monday, I felt even worse,” said Bassett, who is a neuroscience major on the pre-med track.

She went to the Baptist Health Urgent Care Center near campus. Her condition worsened, and she developed pneumonia and pharyngitis, or an inflammation of the throat, at the same time. Eventually, she had to stay at a hospital overnight.

French professor Subha Xavier also had the flu during the beginning of the semester. Though she only teaches Tuesday and Thursday classes, she had to cancel class the first Tuesday of the semester.

“I was really conflicted about canceling the first day of class, especially since I am teaching Tuesday/Thursday sections, which are longer classes,” she said. “The university’s health alert about taking the flu seriously gave me pause, however, since I must admit it was a really nasty flu and spread like wildfire among the members of my family.”

Although hesitant at first, Xavier eventually decided to cancel her class.

“In hindsight I am glad I cancelled my classes and prevented more of an epidemic than necessary … and I was grateful for the much needed rest too,” she said.

Bassett and Xavier are among the many people in the United States who have been affected by influenza. According to figures released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), during the week of Jan. 13 to 19, out of the 11,984 samples tested, 3,129 were positive for influenza. Statistics for the weeks of Jan. 20 to 26 and Jan. 27 to Feb. 2 have not yet been released.

Experts and federal health officials have declared that this will be a fairly severe flu season – death rates from flu and pneumonia have increased from those reported in past years. An article reported by The New York Times on Saturday, however, indicated that “new infections with influenza continued to fall, suggesting that the season has peaked almost everywhere in the country except in the far West.”

A weekly influenza surveillance report prepared by the influenza division of the CDC indicates Florida’s status on influenza-like illnesses reported. Compared to other states, Florida’s status seems relatively low. The map marks Florida yellow, to indicate the low numbers of those affected in the state. Other states, like Texas, New York, Arizona, Louisiana and Kentucky, are marked red, to indicate the high level of influenza activity reported in those states.

According to an article reported by USA Today, there are three types of flu circulating in the country: H3N2, H1N1 and Influenza B. H3N2 is by far the most common and most likely to put people in the hospital with complications. All three are included in this year’s flu vaccine.

The last time H3N2 was in high circulation was during the 2002-2003 flu season, according to the same article reported by USA Today. During that season, about 95 percent of the flu was made up of H3N2. In 2007-2008, it was 75 percent, the CDC officials reported. Since then, other strains have been more common, so resistance to the strain has lessened. The virus has also mutated.

Influenza vaccine manufacturers reported a total of 145 million doses of vaccines available for the 2012-2013 flu season, according to statistics released by the CDC.

During all of last year’s season, 132.8 million doses of flu vaccine were distributed in the United States. As of Jan. 18, however, more than 133 million doses have already been distributed.

“While national reports show an increased number of cases this flu season, rates at UM so far are typical of prior busy flu seasons,” said Dr. Howard Anapol, who currently serves as medical director for the Student Health Center and has worked at UM for 18 years.

The Student Health Center immunized nearly 1,200 students during the fall semester. Since school resumed for the spring semester, approximately 900 additional flu shots were given at the Rock, the School of Law and the Student Health Center. In addition, extra hand sanitizers have been placed in high traffic areas, including places like the Wellness Center and the residential halls.

At one point this spring, the Health Center’s vaccine supply was low.

“… there was one day where our supply was low, and we gave preference to students with an appointment,” he said. “Additional flu shots arrived the next day, allowing us to continue to vaccinate both those with and those without an appointment.”

Dr. Anapol offered recommendations to those who have not been afflicted by the flu.

“Do your best to stay away from those who are obviously ill,” he said. “Practice good hand washing, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer, and if you have not already done so, get a flu shot.”