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Be aware of spreading influenza
Student Health Services
After a relatively mild January, widespread influenza activity was
reported in 31 states, including South Carolina, during the first week
of February. On college campuses across the state, including Clemson
University, College of Charleston and the University of South Carolina,
a high rate of flu has been reported.
MUSC has undertaken an aggressive and successful flu vaccination
campaign this season to better protect students, faculty, staff and
patients. Even with these effort many have experienced acute
respiratory illnesses including influenza or other common respiratory
viruses that occur in the winter. Almost half of recent influenza
cultures appear to be variant strains of types A influenza H3N2
(Brisbane) and influenza B (Yamagata), which were not included in this
Other common respiratory illnesses this time of year include
corona-virus, rhinovirus, para-influenza, and respiratory syncytial
virus. (See The Catalyst, Oct. 5, 2007)
Influenza viruses are constantly mutating so that immunity (from
vaccination or illness) one year will not provide protection from
future strains of the flu. Based on the predominant circulating strains
of virus in a given year, experts predict which strains of virus to
include in the flu vaccine for the following year. Each year’s vaccine
contains protection against three influenza strains: two members of the
type A family (an H1N1 and an H3N2 strain), and one member from the
type B family.
Two strains of flu viruses emerged last February that were too late to
be included in this year’s flu vaccine. These strains, the Brisbane/10
and Yamagata influenzas, now account for 44 percent of all flu cultures
this winter. It is too early to tell how much protection the current
flu vaccine will provide against these variant strains. Even when the
flu vaccine is not an ideal match with circulating strains, it can
still provide enough protection to prevent or lessen illness severity
and prevent flu-related complications.
An annual flu vaccination is essential not only to prevent infection in
health care workers, but to prevent spreading the infection to
vulnerable patients and family members. The flu vaccine still is
available and is free for MUSC employees (through Employee Health) and
MUSC students (through Student Health Services).
How does one get the flu?
- Up to 20 percent of U.S. residents will get the flu each
winter. While most people who get influenza will recover in a few days
to less than two weeks, some people (the young, the elderly, pregnant
women, and those with certain chronic medical conditions) are at high
risk for developing life-threatening complications. More than 90
percent of influenza-related deaths occur in persons 60 years of age
- The influenza virus is typically transmitted from
person-to-person by inhaling a respiratory droplet from an infected
person’s cough or sneeze.
- The average incubation period for the influenza virus is
one to two days.
What are flu symptoms?
Influenza shares signs and symptoms with many common respiratory
infections. What distinguishes the flu from other respiratory
viruses is the abrupt onset of symptoms (within hours) as well as the
severity of symptoms. These symptoms may include:
- Sore throat, runny nose, and nasal congestion may be
present, though are more commonly associated with the common cold.
How do I know if I have the flu?
- Duration of symptoms: Fever and muscle aches generally
improve within three to five days, though lingering cough and fatigue
can last up to a few weeks.
- Health care providers may diagnose influenza on clinical
grounds or may use one of the rapid flu tests that now are
- Notify your health care provider as soon as possible about
your symptoms. Many clinics will provide a mask or have a separate
waiting area for patients with flu symptoms.
- Antiviral medications (oseltamivir, zanamivir) can decrease
the severity and duration of the illness if started within one to two
days after onset of symptoms.
- Hydration: High fever increases the daily fluid requirement
by about 10 percent for each degree of fever. If the average adult
requires 1.5 - 2 liters of fluid/day from food and drink, this should
be increased by about 150 ml of fluid for each degree of fever above
- Anti-inflammatory medications can reduce the fever and
muscle aches associated with the flu. These medications include
acetaminophen, ibuprofen, naproxen and aspirin. Aspirin use should be
avoided in children and teenagers due to the risk of Reye's Syndrome.
How do I keep from spreading the
- Adults can be contagious to others starting the day before
symptoms begin through about five days after illness onset. Viral
shedding peaks at 24 to 48 hours of illness and then rapidly declines
over the next five days, though longer periods of viral shedding can
occur in children and immuno-compromised persons.
- The flu virus typically is transmitted by airborne
respiratory droplets, so cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when
you cough or sneeze, and throw the tissue away after you use it.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after
you cough or sneeze. If you are not near water, use an alcohol-based
How can I prevent getting the
- Stay home until symptoms resolve to avoid spreading the flu
to patients and colleagues.
- Annual flu shots are the most effective way to keep from
getting the flu. When the influenza vaccine is well- matched to
circulating strains of the virus, it can be expected to reduce
laboratory-confirmed influenza by approximately 70 percent to 90
percent in healthy adults 65 years of age and older. Protective
antibodies typically appear two weeks after receiving the flu
For more information, visit http://www.scdhec.net/flu/cold_flu.htm;
- Antiviral drugs can be used as a second line of defense to
treat the flu or to prevent infection when household members or close
contacts have been diagnosed with the flu. When taken as prophylaxis,
these medications should be started as soon as possible and continued
until there is no longer influenza activity in the area.
Friday, Feb. 15, 2008
Catalyst Online is published weekly,
as needed and improved from time to time by the MUSC Office of Public
for the faculty, employees and students of the Medical University of
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