Washing away the flu

The influenza virus outbreak is the worst in years


Sarah Bellamy

Routinely washing hands is one preventative measure for those wishing to avoid the flu.

Updated with quote from Dax Dubroc, Feb. 22

Fever. Nausea. Chills. Body aches. Shivering. Loss of appetite.

These common flu symptoms should be taken very seriously and are affecting almost everyone at a rapid pace.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that the 2018 flu season is going to be one of the worst in more than a decade, and it’s just getting started.

Forty-eight states have reported widespread flu activity and the percentage of outpatient visits for influenza-like symptoms are nearing a high.

“I missed a week,” Dax Dubroc (10) said. “I’m still trying to get caught up.”

Influenza is spreading like wildfire across Missouri and the casualties are increasing every day. EHS nurses report 10-12 daily visits where students demonstrate flu-like symptoms.

“Students have a cold one day and then end up missing a whole week because they have the flu,” Mandy Kotraba, Science, said. “It’s been really bad.”

The flu can cause mild to severe illnesses and at times can lead to hospitalization or death. Older people and young children are at higher risks for flu complications.

“I’ve been missing a lot of school and haven’t been able to catch up on my work,” Lily Cagle (10) said.

By the end of January, 7.1 percent of people were seeing their healthcare providers because of the flu, which is above the national baseline of 2.2 percent.  There have been a total of 84 influenza-related pediatric deaths in the nation for the 2017-2018 season.

“Students come to school sick so they don’t fall behind, but then they get everyone else sick,” Kiley Race (10) said. “If you’re sick, don’t come to school.”

Many students who miss school for the flu can end up missing weeks.

“I was out of school with the flu for a week,” Ethan Fine, EHS-hub editor-in-chief, said. “It’s obviously hard to run a publication from your bed, but we had to make it work.”

Students are ultimately faced with the decision of worsening and spreading their sickness by attending school or staying home and ending up behind in their classes.

“I missed so much school,” Emma Agoncillo (9) said. “I had to retake all of my finals.”

As students are putting their school work ahead of their health, they’re putting themselves and their classmates at a higher risk of catching influenza.

“Make sure you have a supply of Lysol to spray anyone down that’s sick,” Susanne Allmendinger, Theater, said. “Spray a perimeter around yourself.”

Schools are public spaces in which people share equipment and routinely come into contact with surfaces others frequently touch. In an Environmental Science lab, 20-30 students handled beans that subsequent classes also handled.

“After our lab, I said, ‘You might want to Germ-X your hands,’ and only one student out of 30 actually did,” Kotraba said.

Not all students and teachers are taking the extra minute or two to protect themselves from the illness.

“I have clorox wipes to wipe down anything that anybody touches,” Allmendinger said.

Whether it is washing your hands or wiping down surfaces, taking time out of your daily routine to stay healthy can actually be quite easy.

“Students are dirty,” Race said. “Wash your hands every time you use the bathroom and use hand sanitizer.”

As students leave the bathrooms, only a fraction of them take the time to properly wash their hands. Those unwashed hands touch the door. Then students who washed their hands touch the same door, and it’s as though they never washed their hands.

“The problem with influenza is that it’s highly contagious,” Amy Wehr, Rockwood Lead Nurse, said.“It’s easily spread from person to person and especially in close quarters which basically describes the school setting.”

People with the flu can spread it to others about six feet away. Symptoms of the flu don’t start until one to four days after the virus has entered the body, so people can be infected and infect others without even knowing it.

“If you have the virus so do your classmates,” Cynthia Wyrostek, EHS nurse, said. “Staying home is key.”

The best ways to avoid catching influenza are:

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
  • If you have the flu, stay home for 24 hours after the fever is gone
  • Limit contact with others while sick to avoid infecting others
  • Cough and sneeze into your elbow
  • Get an annual vaccine
  • Wash your hands properly
  • Don’t share food or drinks

The flu virus is constantly changing, so the vaccines are renewed and updated each year to keep up with the flu virus. The body’s immune response from vaccination declines over time, so the annual flu vaccination is mandatory for protection against influenza.

Vaccinated people can still catch the flu, but the symptoms are not as intense and tend to last for a much shorter duration.

“Getting a vaccination is the best way to protect yourself, and staying home when you feel sick is also what we ask and what the CDC recommends,” Wehr said. “Get vaccinated and practice respiratory etiquette.”