Flu Season Survival Guide

It’s that time of year again: flu season. The epidemic this year is widespread, afflicting millions in every state across the country. This year’s flu strain has been reported as particularly virulent, but there are essential steps that the UC San Diego community is encouraged to take to prevent contracting and spreading the flu.

Flu Vaccines

“The first line of defense for preventions is getting the flu shot,” said Kim Delahanty, director of Infection Prevention / Clinical Epidemiology at UC San Diego’s School of Medicine. “It prevents healthy people from coming down with the flu and or prevents severe influenza illness. The sooner you get the vaccine, the better because it takes two weeks for your immunity to develop.”

UC San Diego’s Student Health Services has administered about 3,000 flu vaccines during the 2012/2013 academic year, according to Dr. Regina Fleming-Magit, director of Student Health Services. “Until recently, the flu rate on campus has been low, however there has been an increase in cases in recent weeks,” Fleming-Magit said.

Unvaccinated students are encouraged to get the flu shot from their healthcare provider and/or search this link to find flu vaccine sites near them.

Hand Hygiene

There are various ways the flu can be passed, and in some cases, your own hands can be your worst enemy when it comes to catching the flu. “One common way the virus spreads is when someone will sneeze in their hands and touch someone or an inanimate object, such as a door knob, which transmits organisms to the next person who touches the same door knob,” Delahanty said. “These organisms can live on objects for one to two days.”

However, this process can be prevented through the practice of hand hygiene, which can remove organisms that spread the flu virus.

“If you use hand hygiene gel with alcohol for 20 seconds, it can prevent spreading potential viruses to other people including your loved ones, co-workers, neighbors and friends,” Delahanty said.

She added, “Hand hygiene should be practiced on a routine basis always, regardless of what season it is. Alcohol hand gel use for 15-20 seconds when your hands are not visibly soiled is more preferable, the World Health Organization and Center for Disease control recommends it. Washing your hands with soap and water for at least 15-20 seconds is the secondary option recommended especially when your hands are visibly soiled.”

Respiratory Etiquette

The flu can spread from sneezing, coughing, talking and even laughing, so those affected by the virus should practice “respiratory etiquette,” by covering their coughs and sneezes with a tissue, not their hands.

Fleming-Magit said that although statistics do not indicate that UC San Diego’s on-campus students, who live in close quarters, are more likely to get the flu, they should take all the precautionary steps needed to prevent catching or spreading the virus.

“If you have to cough or sneeze and don’t have a tissue, then use the crook of your elbow,” she said. “And we encourage everyone to wipe down hard surfaces (desks, door handles) with disinfectant.”

Stay Home

According to Delahanty, here are more viruses out there than just the flu.“If you’re sick you should stay home. If you have a flu-like symptoms or a temperature of 100.4  or greater, stay home.”

Fleming-Magit has the same advice for students: “Stay home and have a friend pick up your assignments,” she said. “You can also ask your resident advisor (RA) for assistance while you’re under the weather. On campus, we have Get Well kits, with a digital thermometer, cough syrup, acetaminophen, hand sanitizer and tissues for $5.”

Fleming-Magit advises that anyone with a fever above 104 degrees Faherenheit should go to the nearest hospital.

What UC San Diego is Doing

Information on flu prevention and more has been presented to students through newsletters, websites, fliers and flu clinics, sponsored by Student Health Service, that were held on campus in October, November and January.  In addition, Student Health Services sent prevention information to targeted groups of students who might be at more risk of complications from the flu.

For more information on Student Health Services at UC San Diego, go to: http://studenthealth.ucsd.edu/.

Want to keep up with UC San Diego news and events?
Subscribe to This Week @ UCSD. It's free!