Earlier this fall, we were not sure what to expect this flu season. Would influenza remain at the low levels we’ve experienced throughout the pandemic or would it resurface with a vengeance?
We are now getting an answer to that question. UF campus is in the midst of a large flu outbreak, with a very big spike in infections among those ages 18 to 25.
This is highly unusual. It is children under 18 who have historically been most affected during typical flu seasons. But not this year.
Between Sept. 1 and Nov. 9, we have seen over 600 cases of influenza among the 18-25 age group and cases are climbing. By comparison, there were fewer than 100 cases during that same period among younger children. Another point of comparison: Last year, influenza cases on UF campus never surpassed 200.
What’s particularly worrisome is that this year’s season is just getting started. In Gainesville, the flu season generally peaks in late December or early January.
What can students do to protect themselves from coming down with this highly contagious illness? Get a flu vaccine. It’s free, it’s easy and it works. You can sign up here.
Common flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, a runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, fatigue and, in some cases, diarrhea and vomiting. The CDC recommends staying home for at least 24 hours after a fever resolves.
Most cases of the flu do not result in serious illness, but symptoms may send you to bed or keep you home for several days, which means there is risk of falling behind on school work and missing out on extracurricular activities.
Getting a flu shot is especially important as many students will return home in just a few weeks to be with family and friends at Thanksgiving and again for winter break. Receiving a flu shot now means you won’t miss out on any holiday fun – or unintentionally spread the “Gainesville Plague,” as some call it. Children under 5 and older persons, pregnant women and those with certain chronic health conditions are especially susceptible to severe influenza, so getting your flu shot now will help to protect those vulnerable populations.
In addition to getting a flu vaccine, you can reduce your risk of getting sick by continuing to wear a mask when indoors and by frequently washing your hands.
Dr. Nicole M. Iovine is chief epidemiologist at UF Health Shands Hospital.