Flu Outbreak Causes Influx of Wellness Center Appointments

Courtesy of USACE | FlickrThis season’s flu outbreak has been the worst in recent years, with cases reported in all 50 states and Puerto Rico and 84 flu-related child deaths, according to the CDC.

The Wellness Center is experiencing a rise in student visits due to the increase of flu activity across campus.

This season’s influenza outbreak has caused numerous hospitalizations and deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

CDC reports indicate there have been 84 child deaths for the 2017-18 season so far. The rate of people seeking flu-related aid is equal to that of the swine flu epidemic of 2009. This season’s number of visits for Influenza-like Illness (ILI) surpasses previous years, according to the CDC.

Melissa Frick, a nurse practitioner at the Wellness Center on Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus, said there’s been a significant increase in the number of flu virus diagnoses on campus. The Wellness Center reports on diagnosis codes to assess percentages of patients seen for various conditions. Diagnosis codes allow health professionals to identify how a patient should be assessed.

“There has been a 50 percent increase in influenza diagnoses from what we are seeing from this year to last year,” Frick said.

Puerto Rico and 48 states have reported widespread flu activity, while Oregon and Hawaii have reported regional or less widespread activity. This is the first time in 15 flu seasons all states have reported widespread flu activity in the same week, according to the CDC.

The number of seasonal flu-related deaths varies from year to year because of the length and severity of the season, therefore, the CDC is unable to provide a single estimate of influenza-associated adult deaths this year.

The virus is mostly impacting adults 65 years and older, children younger than five, pregnant women, residents of nursing homes and American Indians and Alaska Natives, according to the CDC.

While influenza A can be broken down into subtypes, influenza B can only be broken down into lineages and strains, according to the CDC. There are three types of influenza currently circulating throughout the continental United States.

Influenza types A and B cause seasonal epidemics almost every winter in the United States, according to the CDC.

Influenza H3N2, also known as influenza type A, is the primary flu virus students are being diagnosed with by the Wellness Center, according to Frick. There have been other strains of the flu reported in Illinois for subtypes A and B, but at the same magnitude.

Currently, the risk of influenza H3N2 is high, according to a report from the Chicago Department of Public Health. This is a result of the highest number of influenza-associated Intensive Care Unit hospitalizations this season, reported at 79 cases for the first week of 2018.

Similarly, most flu infections across the country are being caused by influenza H3N2 viruses, according to a report by the CDC released Feb. 16.

Frick said she thinks the risk of the flu is so dangerous and contagious compared to prior years because of its widespread activity.

“This is one of the first years in some time that the entire United States is the same color on the flu-tracking graph, meaning there is widespread activity throughout the continental U.S.,” Frick said.

While there haven’t been any fatalities or hospitalizations of Loyola students diagnosed with the flu, the Wellness Center is encouraging students to practice good hygiene, according to Joan Holden, director of the Wellness Center. Holden said the Wellness Center does its part to prevent the spread of illness across campus at the beginning of the school year.

“We start our flu campaign early in the year,” Holden said. “We have nurses go to the Wellness Fair and give flu shots.”

The Wellness Fair is an annual health event that takes place in early October at the beginning of every school year. It hosts a vaccination campaign where free flu shots are administered to students.

However, the flu vaccine is only 36 percent effective in preventing strains A and B this flu season in adults and 59 percent effective for children, according to the CDC. The effectiveness against the flu’s most predominant strain, influenza H3N2, is lower than the overall average.

Influenza H3N2 vaccination effectiveness was estimated to be 25 percent, according to a CDC report. The low effectiveness of the flu vaccine has contributed to widespread activity, according to the CDC.

The Wellness Center advises students to take precautionary measures, such as washing hands, sneezing into the elbow and getting a flu shot to prevent getting sick. Tamiflu, an antiviral medication, can limit the severity of the flu if taken within 48 hours of obtaining the illness, according to Holden.

“This medication is recommended for people with underlying health issues like asthma or diabetes,” Frick said. “They can be more at risk for complications so we want to be more cautious with those with underlying conditions.”

The symptoms of the flu virus include tremendous fatigue, discomfort, fever, coughing and muscle aches. Some may also have nausea, but this isn’t always the case.

Frick said students diagnosed with the flu should avoid others and wear a mask to contain the spread of the disease.

The Wellness Center advises students to use hand sanitizer that can be found in the center and around campus to avoid getting the flu.

With the flu spreading across campus, some students said the Wellness Center should be available for appointments at all times. The Wellness Center is open Monday-Saturday at differing hours during the academic year. Kaylynn Reed, 19, said there should be access to the Wellness Center every day.

“I don’t think it’s smart to be closed on the weekend,” the sophomore psychology major said. “Anything can happen to anyone.”

Marcela Mendoza, a 22-year-old senior creative writing major, agrees with Reed.

“It’s definitely a problem because you can’t predict when a person can get sick,” Mendoza said.  “It shouldn’t be something that’s restricted to operating during specific days or hours.”

While Mendoza and Reed have never been treated by the Wellness Center, Morgan Ciocca, a first-year journalism major, had a difficult time booking an appointment.

“The appointments were so backed up that I went to the CVS because it was quicker,” the 18-year-old said.

Other primary care centers in Rogers Park include Heartland Health (1300 W. Devon Ave.).

If appointments are overbooked, Holden recommends students call Dial-A-Nurse.

Dial-A-Nurse allows students to phone a registered nurse during Wellness Center hours to discuss health concerns and questions. The nurse will help the student determine if he or she should be seen by a provider in the clinic, according to Holden.

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