UC Santa Barbara Student Health diagnosed 28 students with the flu and 84 with an influenza-like illness between Oct. 1, 2017 and Feb. 1, 2018.
Within the same timeframe last school year, UCSB Student Health had diagnosed 50 students with influenza and 31 with an influenza-like illness.
The California Department of Public Health’s Influenza and Other Respiratory Viruses Weekly Report for Jan. 7 to 13, 2018 reported that Influenza A (H3N2) viruses are more widespread this season.
The Influenza A (H3N2) strain tends to cause larger outbreaks compared to other strains of the flu, according to data from the Center for Disease Control and Santa Barbara County Public Health Department.
Ali Javanbakht, the medical director at UCSB Student Health, said Cottage Hospital in Goleta has seen a sharp rise in the number of flu cases. Other hospitals in counties across California are experiencing elevated numbers of cases as well.
At least 20,000 people die in the U.S. from the flu every year, according to Javanbakht.
“As of now, improving flu vaccination rates is our best bet at reducing that number,” Javanbakht said in an email. “We’re always looking for ways to boost flu vaccination rates at UCSB since there are a lot of people on campus in close quarters, which can really lend itself to an outbreak.”
Between Aug. 1, 2017 and Jan. 23, 2018, UCSB Student Health administered 1,862 flu vaccines. In the same time period last year, UCSB Student Health had administered 1,794 vaccinations.
To help boost these rates, UCSB Student Health offers flu vaccination clinics. Their walk-in hours are Monday through Friday, from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. An express flu clinic is also available by appointment and is held on Friday afternoons from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.
The California Department of Public Health said vaccinating is the best protection against the influenza virus.
“I think it’s hard for young, healthy college students to feel the need to get the flu vaccine, but getting a flu vaccine yourself helps protect your ‘tribe’ Javanbakht said in an email. “By getting vaccinated, you become one fewer entry points of the flu virus into your circle of friends, roommates, classmates, significant others, and family members.”
There would be a drastic decrease in the number of flu cases if 95 percent of the campus were vaccinated, according to Javanbakht.
“This would mean fewer missed class days, fewer missed exercise days, fewer missed socializing days, and more healthcare resources available to tend to other ill or injured students,” he said in an email.
While it is still possible to catch the flu if a person receives the flu vaccine, Javanbakht said those who are vaccinated and fall ill tend to be ill for a shorter amount of time and experience less extreme symptoms.
Javanbakht reported that the majority of the flu cases UCSB Student Health sees are in students who haven’t received the vaccine.
It is important to wash hands often, cover coughs and sneezes and stay home when sick in order to stop the spread of the flu. Javanbakht also said using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to clean your hands is effective, especially before eating.
“Taking care when touching surfaces where the flu virus can reside, such as doorknobs, tables, pens, paper, ATM, keyboards, etc., and using a hand sanitizer after doing so can also be very effective,” Javanbakht said in an email.
He explained that “getting enough sleep, eating healthy meals and exercising regularly all help to keep the immune system functioning better overall.”