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Worse than normal flu season making local impact

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The flu is making an impact in Athens and at Ohio U. Illustration via Pixabay.

“This has been a difficult flu season,” James Gaskell, Athens County Health Commissioner, said.

Over 17,000 people have been hospitalized this fall and winter in what the Centers for Disease Control has deemed the worst flu season since the swine flu epidemic in 2009.

In Ohio, there were 70 flu diagnoses per 100,000 people hospitalized this season; this is a 958 percent increase in cases since the 2016-17 flu season. Nationally, the ratio was 60 cases per 100,000 hospitalizations.

“This has been a difficult flu season,” James Gaskell, Athens County Health Commissioner, said. “This is a serious flu season, one of the worst we’ve had in recent years.”

Although the flu spiked, pediatric deaths are down 48.2 percent from last year. Three pediatric deaths were recorded in Ohio.

“This is a serious, significant, flu season with many people seriously ill and lots hospitalized,” Gaskell said.

H3N2 and H1N1, the same virus that caused the swine flu epidemic in 2009, account for 85-to-90 percent of the influenza this season. The vaccine for H3N2 mutated in production, making it less effective in fighting the virus, Gaskell said.

“Even though the vaccine this year is less than a perfect match, that’s our best protection,” he said. “Getting the vaccine is the most important thing that you can do to protect yourself from the disease.”

If you get the flu, you should avoid contact with other people, public places and going to class for about one week, as the virus is contagious for that period. College students should consider going home if they get the flu, Gaskell said.  

“That’s not a happy thought for college students because you’re going to miss classes,” he said.

Ohio University’s Health Alerts recommends students stay home and avoid contact with other people if they contract the flu.

“Stay away from others as much as possible to keep from making others sick,” the Health Alerts’ website said. “ This means avoiding normal activities, including work, school, travel, shopping, social events and public gatherings.”

Avoiding classes for a week means missing five or more classes for the average full-time student.

Ohio U lets the enforcement and creation of attendance policies be at the discretion of its instructors, but the university expects students to attend class regularly. Because of this, attendance policies can range from one unexcused absence to three or more. However, the university has a campus-wide policy for what constitutes an excused absence.

“Although instructors’ policies govern how excused absences will be handled in their classes, certain absences are considered legitimate by the University,” according to the university’s Academic Policies and Procedures catalog. “These include illness, death in the immediate family, religious observance, jury duty, and involvement in University–sponsored activities.”

Illnesses, including the flu, must be confirmed by a doctor’s note or verification of care.

If an instructor does not excuse a university sanctioned excuse, a student has the right to appeal through the instructor first, then the department chair, then the dean of the college.

The university and Gaskell advise that if you do get the flu and choose to go to class, to cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing and wash your hands frequently.

Luckily, the flu season is coming to an end, Gaskell said.

“Our flu season is going to start to wean soon so there is optimism around,” Gaskell said.

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