As the fall season draws to a close, another less beloved annual event begins: the flu season.
Last year’s flu season was one of the deadliest in decades. In the 2017-2018 flu season, there were more than 30,000 laboratory-confirmed influenza-related hospitalizations in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC reported that flu vaccination coverage among adults was 37.1% percent- a decrease of 6.2 percentage points from the year prior.
A significant number of influenza-related deaths were among young adults. The CDC estimates that 10,300 deaths occurred among adults aged 18 to 64 and 30 million individuals in this age group became sick from the flu.
There are steps that can be taken to help prevent the spread and contraction of influenza. The flu vaccine is an effective prevention method. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, the seasonal flu vaccine can reduce the risk of getting the flu by almost half. The U.S. Department of Health & Human services recommends getting the flu vaccine every year, as immunity decreases with time and the flu viruses are constantly changing.
The flu vaccine protects against three or four specific flu viruses that research suggests will be the most prevalent. This season, the CDC recommends receiving a trivalent (three-component) vaccine, which contain prominent viruses such as the H1N1 and H3N2 viruses.
According to Anna D’Amato, executive director of Southern Oregon University’s Student Health and Wellness Center, accessibility to health services helped keep the flu under control in Jackson County last year. “We have a really good connection with the public health department, so I was in constant contact with them last year as things were heard all over the news,” D’Amato said. “We did have more cases, but not at the epidemic level.”
D’Amato said that accessibility, time, and money are all key factors in the declining rates of flu vaccinations. “We still have a lot of people that don’t have insurance,” D’Amato said. “All around the nation, vaccinations [in general] are going down, [and] people are not getting vaccinated.”
In addition to the vaccine, other supplemental influenza prevention methods are available. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration recently approved Xofluza, the first new flu drug in 20 years. Xofluza is a single-dose oral intended to treat patients of 12 years of age or older, who have been symptomatic for no more than 48 hours.
With thousands of people getting the flu every year, and many people becoming seriously ill, having safe and effective treatment alternatives are critical,” said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D. in an FDA press release. “This novel drug provides an important, additional treatment option.”
In the FDA press release, Gottlieb noted the importance of vaccinations as being the primary prevention method against the flu. “While there are several FDA-approved antiviral drugs to treat flu, they’re not a substitute for yearly vaccination,” Gottlieb said. “Yearly vaccination is the primary means of preventing and controlling flu outbreaks.”
SOU students have a variety of local resources for receiving flu vaccinations. The Student Health and Wellness Center (SHWC) offers flu vaccinations for students at a cost of $22, which is charged to a student’s account. Additionally, the SHWC provides a flu care instruction download that provides an overview of flu symptoms, emergency warning signs and self care tips.
Many students have already visited to SHWC to receive flu vaccinations in preparation for this year’s flu season. “For the students on campus, we’ve already gone through more than 100 vaccines, which is more than this time last year,” D’Amato said. “That was a good thing to see, that students are coming in for their shot.”
The SHWC is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and students can call 541-552-6136 to schedule an appointment.
Other health service providers in Ashland offer the influenza vaccination as well. Rite Aid offers appointment free flu shots that are covered by most insurance plans. For students who are living in or willing to make the drive to Medford, Walgreens and Fred Meyer offer insurance-covered flu vaccinations as well.
“I think in Ashland there’s more than enough places [to get the flu vaccine]… “and it’s affordable.” D’Amato said.