by Nicholas Moran ’19
Waking up to pins and needles poking at his throat, Minneapolis middle schooler Grant LaMontagne assumed he had a sore throat. Yet as the hours ticked by, it was getting harder and harder to breathe.
Five days later, LaMontagne was gasping for air in the back of an ambulance, with “vinelike threads of mucus” filling his lungs and constricting his breath. Immediately, doctors inserted an oxygen tube into the young boy’s neck as a “lung bypass machine” fed him oxygen that his pneumonia-stricken “lungs could not.”
As doctors and nurses ran about around them, LaMontagne’s parents were dumbfounded. “We just cried …and talk[ed]…[about]what was happening,” a distraught Mrs. LaMontagne told the Washington Post. “It all happened so fast… he’s a healthy boy… he’s never had any major illnesses.”
While LaMontagne survived his encounter with this year’s H3N2 flu epidemic, millions of Americans are contracting what the New York Times called the most “intense… [outbreak] since the 2009 swine flu pandemic.” This year’s flu is more serious than ever before, and is a cause for major health alarm.
Dr. Daniel Jernigan, director of the influenza division at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention warned that “we’ll expect something around” 34 million flu-struck Americans, 710,000 flu hospitalizations, 56,000 deaths, and over 148 pediatric deaths. 49 out of the 50 states have reported “widespread flu activity,” including the Rhode Island Department of Health, which has reported 11 “flu related” fatalities so far.
To make matters worse, federal officials warned the Washington Post that the number of flu patients is “rising sharply,” as Dr. Jernigan cautioned that we are only “halfway” through the season.
Facing mounting flu-cases, health services are becoming overwhelmed. California hospitals have begun to treat the ill in outdoor tents, Tamiflu and flu vaccines are becoming scarce, and bed shortages even forced a Chicago hospital to leave victims in “ambulances idling outside the hospital.”
It is important for Providence College students to know that it is not just the elderly and little children filling those beds. All too often, college students assume the flu is just a problem for their grandparents and little cousins. The National Foundation of Infectious Diseases even reported that only up to 8-39 percent of college students get vaccinated, forcing colleges to throw away expired vaccines. “I hate getting poked with needles,” a student told NBC, “flu vaccinations just don’t seem like a necessity. I’m young and healthy. Even if I get it again, my body will fight it off within two days.”
Unfortunately, it is not that simple. While the flu may not necessarily put a college student’s life in jeopardy, it will make his or her week miserable and does have serious heath consequences.
Dr. Libby Caruso told NBC that a typical flu-struck student can miss “a week or more of classes,” and are left shivering from chills in their tight dorm room beds. Noses clogged and drenched in a fever sweat, sick students are certainly not enjoying a relaxing break from class.
Even worse, they can infect droves of other students. With students huddled in small dorm halls, grabbing silverware from small buckets at the dining hall, and using public restrooms, one case can multiply to 25 in a heartbeat. For instance, Ohio State University is struggling to contain a H3N2 outbreak that has infected 23 students, and outbreaks are forcing high schools in Texas and Florida to cancel school days.
As America reels from this historic flu season, there are ways to protect yourself. A simple flu shot reduces your risk by 40 percent according to the CDC, and frequent hand washing can help stymie the spread of this horrific outbreak.
Above all, if you feel sick, stay in your room. Take an absence from class, stay away from Raymond Dining Hall, relax and watch Netflix. All it takes is one encounter to spark an outbreak. A sick student touches a doorknob and leaves germs, dozens of others touch it, they eat, get sick, and suddenly H3N2 has reared its ugly head at PC. Get the shot, and protect yourself, your friends, and PC.