Vaccine might not beat new flu strain

Melanie Evans

January might be too late for students seeking protection against the headaches and fatigue of influenza from a flu shot.
The shot is most effective if received in October, before the advent of the flu season, said Boynton Health Service nursing supervisor Sheryl Daubenberger. And this year’s shot might be futile against A Sydney — a surprise strain of influenza popping up across the United States.
The Minnesota Department of Health confirmed the state’s first and only case of A Sydney last week, making Minnesota one of eight states with confirmed cases identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This season’s flu shot protects against A Sydney’s cousin A Wuhaun, but the two are different enough to cause concern among state health officials that the vaccine will not prove effective against the new strain.
According to the Minnesota Department of Health, A Sydney is not unusually virulent. But officials from Boynton Health caution a common bout with influenza could take a student out of circulation for seven to 10 days.
Influenza symptoms are similar to those of a bad cold plus a fever and muscle aches in the neck, back, arms and legs, said Dr. Robert J. Woolley, a staff physician at Boynton Health Service.
Students can expect a moderate reaction to the A Sydney, said Dr. Kris Moore, assistant epidemiologist for the Minnesota Department of Health. Elderly and those with weakened immune systems are at the greatest risk for dangerous health complications.
Woolley estimated that five to 10 students with influenza have passed through Boynton since the beginning of winter quarter. But he added that he’s unsure if influenza can be misdiagnosed or inaccurately reported in health records.
Boynton does not test for specific strains, said Woolley. Diagnosing the influenza category is secondary to providing care to a patient.
There is no useful therapy Boynton can provide against influenza, he said. He advises students with symptoms to stay out of class and stay away from others. However, students with exceptionally high fevers, weakened immune systems, or asthma problems should visit Boynton.
Woolley recommended receiving the annual flu shot as the best — and only — preventative medicine.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention trace the virus’ more insidious offshoots year-round. The Centers’ annual flu shot combats the strains believed to be the next season’s heavy hitters.
An annual shot is necessary because the influenza virus continually evolves, developing numerous strains that muscle past vaccines. One particularly deadly strain in 1918 mushroomed into a worldwide epidemic, killing an estimated 25 to 40 million people in 18 months.
Boynton administered more than 2,500 flu shots since this season’s vaccine became available in November, Daubenberger said.
Daubenberger offered traditional advice to influenza-stricken students: wash your hands, eat nutritiously, drink lots of fluids, and get some rest.
“The same-old, same-old,” she said.
Students with questions or concerns should call Boynton or a residence hall health advocate, Daubenberger said.