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Notre Dame feels effect of national flu outbreak

| Wednesday, February 7, 2018

This flu season, a particularly virulent strain of the disease is sweeping the nation. The Notre Dame community has not found itself exempt from the outbreak.

“On campus, we have seen 30 percent more cases of flu this year as compared with this time last year,” Sharon McMullen, director of University Health Services said in an email. “Although we have not seen an overwhelming surge in cases, there has been a steady increase since the beginning of the second semester.”

There are several factors behind this year’s unusually severe season, including both the strain of disease itself and outside influences such as the weather.

“This year’s predominant strain, H3N2, typically causes widespread outbreaks and severe symptoms.  It is associated with more hospitalizations, deaths and illnesses than other strains,” McMullen said. “The bitterly cold temperatures this winter may be a factor in flu transmission this year, with many people staying inside, gathered in close quarters.”

Another contributing factor to this year’s widespread flu outbreak is people not getting vaccinated, Rebecca Moskwinski, University Health Services medical director, said.

“Vaccination is the first step in preventing the flu,” Moskwinski said in an email. “Even though there has been publicity about the flu shot not being as effective this year, it can still help to prevent severe flu cases, hospitalizations, and often can prevent the flu altogether.”

Students are still able to receive the flu vaccine at Walgreens in St. Liam’s. In addition to getting a flu shot, McMullen said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggested several day-to-day strategies for staying healthy.

“CDC recommends covering your cough, washing your hands with soap and water often, avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth and disinfecting surfaces frequently,” McMullen said. “Stopping the spread of germs is essential.”

Nevertheless, once germs have spread, little can be done to stop symptoms from spreading, McMullen said.

“Flu symptoms include sudden onset of fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache and fatigue,” McMullen said. “Once flu is widespread in the community, as it is now, testing is of little value.”

Staying hydrating and taking medicine to reduce a fever can help treat symptoms, McMullen said. Testing and treatment is more important for at-risk populations, such as children, the elderly and people with medical conditions like asthma or heart disease, she added. For everyone else, it is often a matter of self-care.

“Most people without those risk factors who get the flu have mild illness and don’t need antiviral medication,” McMullen said. “Most people recover from flu without treatment within a week or two.”

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