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As local college students return to Philadelphia from their long winter breaks over the next several days, it is likely that they’ll be bringing who-knows-what germs with them from home, said Stacey A. Gorski, PhD, a biology professor who specializes in immunology at University of the Sciences.
“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has announced that the flu vaccine is proving to be less effective than hoped; however, it is still important to get the vaccine because it still provides some protection, as well as rely on alternative actions – such as frequent hand washing – to help prevent spread of the flu,” said Dr. Gorski. “Colder temperatures and less humidity help the virus spread easier among people, so if this winter proves to be a bitter one, it will be especially important to protect yourself.”
Peak months for the flu are between December and February, and Pennsylvania has already recorded more than 10,000 confirmed flu cases – a number that is likely to spike over the upcoming weeks as more individuals are exposed to the virus, according to the CDC.
These everyday actions could help prevent spread of the flu – especially in communal areas, such as classrooms and residence halls:
- Get vaccinated. This year's flu shot may not be perfect, but it can still protect individuals against some of the circulating strains. The CDC reported that the vaccination can also reduce the severity of illness for those who do get infected.
- Wash your hands frequently with soap. Viruses and bacteria are most often carried on your fingers and can live on surfaces such as desks, keyboards, and writing utensils – and then get carried to the eyes, nose, or mouth.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that are touched often.According to the CDC, the flu virus can live and potentially infect a person for only two to eight hours after being deposited on a surface. That’s why it’s a good idea to wipe down shared objects, such as desks, doorknobs, and keyboards, a few times per day with disinfectant wipes.
- Keep your distance. Individuals spread the flu and other germs by sneezing, coughing, or even just by talking – oftentimes before they even show symptoms or after they are feeling better. Because flu germs do not spread far, it is best to keep a few feet of distance between other people, just to be safe.
- Have hand sanitizer available. Although soap and water works best for killing germs, alcohol-based hand gels can work in a pinch, especially for individuals who use public transportation, or do not have access to a sink for extended periods of time.
USciences pharmacy professor Daniel Hussar, PhD, added that although people are encouraged to receive their flu shots in early fall, the immunization still provides benefits to individuals who wait until January or February to get vaccinated. He said that a nasal spray vaccine – commonly known by its trade name, FluMist – also offers protection to healthy individuals from 2 to 49 years old who are not pregnant.