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Flu Season in Full Swing with Fall Underway

by on November 09, 2014 2:55 AM

It’s the perfect time of year for sweaters, scarves and football. But it’s also the time for body aches and fevers – that’s right, it’s flu season.

Flu season starts in October and runs through the winter, typically ending around March.

Though it’s possible to get the flu at any time during the year, it becomes much more likely in the fall because the virus travels a predictable path around the planet, settling in North America during the fall and winter months.

“The seriousness of the flu is often underestimated,” says Marlene Stetson, an infection prevention specialist with the Mount Nittany Medical Center. “The flu causes illness, hospitalizations, and deaths every year in the United States.”

Holli Senior of the Pennsylvania Department of Health notes that the vast majority of influenza deaths – about 90 percent – occur in people ages 65 and older.

The symptoms of influenza resemble a cold, but the flu comes on faster, hits harder and last longer, Stetson says. Symptoms include nasal congestion, sore throat, muscle aches, chills and a fever over 100 degrees.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health estimates up to 20 percent of Pennsylvanians – or 1,200,000 people – get the flu each year. Of those cases, as many as 2,000 can lead to fatal complications.

Though many young and healthy Penn State students may not see the point of taking precautions against influenza, Penn State's Infectious Disease Control Manager Shelley Haffner says college life has its own special risks. Students live together in small dorm rooms and are constantly in classrooms and other public spaces with students from all across the state, country and world.

"Our students are one tightly-knit group," Haffner says. "The flu can move very quickly through these kinds of tight populations."

There are steps that everyone can take to reduce the likelihood of catching the flu. Avoiding close contact with people who have the flu and regularly washing your hands are essential, Stetson says.

“An annual seasonal flu vaccine is the best way to reduce the chances that you will get seasonal flu and spread it to others,” Senior says. “When more people get vaccinated against the flu, less flu can spread through that community.”

Senior says the exact strain of the flu traveling the globe varies from year to year. Because of this, she says its important to get a new vaccine each year.

"Who should get a flu shot? Well, the very young and the very old, pregnant women, any student who might be near an immunocompromised child at Thon, anyone who lives with an immunocompromised person," Shaffer says, trailing off near the end of her thought. "Let's make this easy. Pretty much everyone needs it."

Mt. Nittany Medical Center is offering a series of flu clinics that run through the winter. Pharmacies like CVS and Rite Aid also offer vaccines during flu season.

Michael Martin Garrett is a reporter and editor for who covers local government, the courts, the arts and writes the Keeping the Faith column. He's a Penn State alumnus, a published poet and the bassist in a local indie rock band.
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