By Nick BeJeaux
In the coming months, a deadly disease is expected to infect millions across the northern hemisphere and kill thousands of people, according to the World Health Organization; but they aren’t talking about Ebola. They are talking about influenza, more commonly known as the flu.
According to numbers from the Center for disease Control, the Ebola virus has killed over 6,000 people since the first recorded outbreak in 1976. That number includes the latest death toll from today’s outbreak in West Africa. According to the same numbers, the flu has killed, on average, 23,000 people every year since 1976. Unlike Ebola, however, the flu easily spreads through the air, making it a big concern for people living in densely populated areas – like college campuses.
“Anyone can get the flu, even healthy college students, and serious problems related to the flu can happen at any age,” Said Dr. Julie Hupperich, associate director of the LSU Student Health center. “However, those at highest risk of developing serious flu-related complications are older adults (65 years and older), people of any age with certain chronic medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease), pregnant women, and young children.”
Influenza and Ebola actually have very similar symptoms, though only Ebola causes massive hemorrhagic bleeding. If you feel achy, have a runny nose, sore throat, cough, have headaches and fatigue and have had zero contact with the bodily fluids of someone who is infected, chances are you have the flu and not Ebola. While the flu’s list of symptoms do not include intense bleeding, and, usually, projectile vomiting or diarrhea, it can still kill you if it goes untreated.
“Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults,” said Hupperich. “Most people who get influenza will recover in a few days to less than two weeks, but some people will develop complications (such as pneumonia) as a result of the flu, some of which can be life-threatening and result in death.”
According to Hupperich, the flu virus can be treated with antiviral drugs, and there are several prescription and over-the counter medications that can manage the symptoms. However, the best cure is prevention. The LSU Student Health Center recently handed out its first flu shots as part of its Flu Shots on the Geaux campaign, and is gearing up for another round this week.
“During the Flu Shots on the Geaux campaign we administered 2,305 flu vaccines at five different locations on campus, including Middleton Library, a new location added this year,” said Hupperich. “We will be hosting an additional administration day this Friday, October 24 at the Student Health Center.”
Flu shots are also widely available at local clinics, hospitals, CVS and Walgreens stores and usually only cost about $15 to $20 for patients with insurance, though the uninsured can pay up to $30 for a shot. The WHO recommends that everyone receive their seasonal vaccination, but that goes especially for pregnant women, children between six months and five years of age, people around or over the age of 65, people with chronic health conditions, and health care workers.
More general information on the influenza virus can be found at in the WHO’s factsheets at www.who.int under the Media Centre tab.