Orange County sees 355 percent flu increase

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About 140 students have visited the Chapman Health Center for the flu so far during flu season, which ends in April. Graphic by Emma Stessman.

Orange County has seen a 355 percent increase in cases of the flu this year, with about 4,600 cases of the flu from October to January, said Matt Zahn, a medical director for the Orange County Health Care Agency.

“We’ve seen a spike in flu reports countywide in the last two to three weeks. The increase is earlier than usual,” Zahn said. “We’ve had more reports of flu this year than any year since 2009.”

At Chapman, 144 students have visited the Student Health Center since September due to flu-like symptoms. In 2016 and 2017, from September to April, 188 and 185 students with flu-like symptoms visited the center, said Director of Student Health Jacqueline Deats.

Symptoms can include fever, cough, a sore throat, body aches, chills and fatigue, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Deats said that, when students come in with flu symptoms, the center can provide prescriptions for Tamiflu, an antiviral medication that can shorten the flu’s duration when taken within 48 hours of symptoms first appearing.

“Get a yearly flu vaccine, wash your hands often, keep in good health, don’t smoke, stay away from sick people and keep your hands off your face,” she said.

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She also suggested that students with the flu stay home until they have been fever-free for 24 hours, but this may require missing classes. The university allows professors to determine their own attendance policies, but recommends that students who are absent for 20 percent of the course fail the course.

“It depends on the class and how sick (students) are,” said freshman business administration major Jacqueline Zhao. “If they are contagious they shouldn’t go, especially if there’s no test. But ultimately, I understand why students would still attend.”

Nationwide outpatient visits to health care providers for the flu are up by 5 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Weekly U.S. Influenza Surveillance Report.

According to the Orange County Public Health Laboratory, the most identified virus in this year’s flu season has been influenza A. Because of the intensity of the influenza A strain, the flu can turn into pneumonia or sepsis, according to the Sepsis Alliance.

Chapman sophomore Jonathan Whitney, a business administration major, suffered from sepsis and pneumonia that was the result of the flu, according to Facebook posts by a friend and his former high school. Whitney’s family did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

He was removed from life support Feb. 3, and is now at the Sutter Rehabilitation Institute for physical therapy in Northern California, according to a CaringBridge account made to update family and friends on his condition.

At this time last year, the Orange County Health Care Agency reported zero deaths in the county. With this season’s flu, there have been 11 deaths in people under the age of 65, Zahn said.

“It’s not too late, you should still get vaccinated if you have not already,” he said.

Deats said students can get flu shots for free at the Student Health Center while supplies last.

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