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What you need to know about this year’s flu season

Last week, the death of Nico Mallozi received national media attention after the 11-year-old hockey player from Connecticut died from the flu.

Mallozi has become a tangible symbol of the dangers of this year’s flu season.
The Center for Disease Control reported that Mallozi is one of 30 children that has died from influenza.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 8.2 percent of all deaths in the United States were attributed to pneumonia and influenza during the week of Dec. 30.

Flu

(Photo courtesy of the AP Exchange)

The most recent reports indicate that the flu is widespread in every state except Hawaii.

“To avoid the flu, get vaccinated, wash your hands often, and don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth,” FGCU’s Emergency Manager said on Twitter.

The flu is spread through respiratory droplets that are released into the air when someone sneezes or coughs. It’s these tiny, microscopic droplets that make the flu a highly communicable disease.

“I am concerned about the flu season this year since I’ve heard so much about it on the news and social media,” Physical Therapy graduate student Kaylee Fichthorn said. “I got my flu shot back in August, but now that it’s more prevalent I make sure I have hand sanitizer on me and offer it to my friends. I also like to take zinc, which helps with the symptoms.”

The flu virus can survive on surfaces for 24 hours. Once contracted, an immediate immune response is catalyzed. This immune response manifests as the common symptoms of the flu such as fever, chills, fatigue, and body aches.

“Once the virus infects a cell, the immune system senses a change in the infected cell and responds by attacking the infected cell,” Clifford Renk, Chair of Biological Sciences and Immunology professor, said. “The infected cell also responds by releasing a molecule, interferon, that limits viral replication.”

One of the reasons this year’s flu season is particularly bad is due to the vaccine. In better flu seasons, vaccines had up to 60 percent effectiveness. This year’s vaccine has half that, with only a 30 percent effectiveness against H3N2, the dominant strain of flu this season.

“Seasonal flu vaccines are made to protect against three flu viruses (influenza A (H1N1) virus, influenza A (H3N2) virus, and an influenza B virus),” Mustafa Mutjaba, Assistant Professor of Microbiology, said in an email. “This year’s vaccine is less effective because the vaccines manufactured several months ago targets strains that are not prevalent at this time.”

Mutjaba said that a mutation in a strain of virus is a leading cause of why some strains of flu are deadlier than other strains, and is in part responsible for the relative ineffectiveness of this year’s vaccine.

H3N2, a type of influenza A, is more prone to mutation than other flu viruses due to its RNA genome. These mutations evade human immunity, increasing the severity of the virus when contracted and making it difficult for researchers to predict where or what mutation to target.

Despite the low success rate, professionals still suggest getting the vaccine.

“The vaccine can offer some protection because the different strains of the influenza virus share some degree of similarity,” Mutjaba said.

Flu vaccines are available for $20 and are offered by Student Health Services Monday through Friday. On the second and third Fridays of January, Health Services will also be offering the vaccine in the Cohen Center on Flu Fridays.

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