It’s that time of year again: flu season. The flu is a respiratory infection caused by the influenza virus, and although the virus can appear anytime of year, it typically tends to appear during the winter months when people congregate indoors.
Biology professor Steve Moore said the virus gets aerosolized and breathed in, and it can also be transmitted through the things people touch. Each year, the strain of the flu is different. Moore explained that there are monitors that are placed worldwide by the World Health Organization and other groups that essentially monitor the outbreaks of influenza. With this technology, scientists are able to determine how to generate the vaccine for the upcoming year a process which takes about nine months.
“The biggest problem with the virus is that it’s constantly changing,” Moore said. “Because of that, it’s difficult to maintain immunity to the virus. In fact, we have no universal vaccine, and that’s the biggest problem. They’re working on it and say they are getting close, [but] we can only hope. Hopefully between the next few years, we will be able to take a single vaccine or a series of vaccines that will protect us from all strains of the virus.”
Being infected by the virus could potentially cause more than just putting someone in bed for a week. Right now, the best tool in medicine to decrease the risk of the flu is the annual flu vaccine, according to Samantha Noguera, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biomedical sciences.
“The flu virus may be fatal if it causes an individual to experience respiratory failure, sepsis or organ failure,” Noguera said. “Individuals who are struggling to fight off an acute flu infection are also much more likely to acquire secondary infections.”
Flu season can wipe out school attendance across the country. Searcy Public Schools have taken action to try to decrease the number of flu reports. Health Services Supervisor of Searcy Public Schools, Tammy Bishop, described the steps Searcy Schools take to prevent the virus from spreading. The janitorial services take fogging machines into classrooms and busses at night to disinfect. The classrooms in the elementary also provide students with hand sanitizer and Clorox wipes to wipe down their desks twice a day.
“On our website, there’s a health services section where we [show] teaching facts to teach the parents what to do if their child gets the flu, what cleaning to do, what not to expose others to,” Bishop said. “We also keep signs up that tell them to cover their cough and things like that. If they’re running a fever, we do have a policy that you have to be 24 hours free with no medication before they can come back.”
Student Health Services provides free medical treatment to students as well as flu vaccinations for a fee.