Amanda Straight | Reporter
One crisis leads to another, and this flu season is proving it. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that this season is measuring up to the severe 2014-2015 epidemic, and it’s taking its toll on the nation’s blood supply.
As one of the first of the 48 states currently experiencing widespread flu activity, Missouri is definitely feeling it.
“We have by far felt the impact the greatest this year,” said Cheryl Barkhurst, Director of Donor Recruitment for Mercy in St. Louis. “I’ve been in the donor industry for 20 years, and we’ve never experienced anything like this.”
Barkhurst went on to say that blood drives expected to have 45-50 donors were barely seeing a quarter of that, and influenza seems to be the predominant factor.
A recent press briefing from the CDC attributes the severity of this season to the prevalent influenza strain, H3N2. The influenza vaccine is estimated to be only 10-30 percent effective against H3N2 and those infected by it experience greater illness. The past seasons this strain has been dominant were more severe and had higher mortality rates.
The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services has reported a season total of influenza cases that exceeds 90,000 with over 1,000 of them resulting in death. Unfortunately, data collected from the CDC suggests that this flu season still has several weeks left, which doesn’t bode well for the state’s blood supply. East Central College represents a substantial community in Missouri and should be aware of what they can do to help.
Minimize the Spread of Influenza on Campus
The ECC campus has been quiet this semester due to heavy absences, and no doubt influenza plays a role.
Director of the Nursing Program Robyn Walter sent a mass email a few weeks ago to promote awareness of the severe flu season and to urge students with flu symptoms to stay home. In an interview, she elaborates further on actions that will help decrease the spread of the virus.
Even with the low efficacy rate of the flu vaccination, Walter touts the benefits of it with the weight of her 30 years of nursing experience.
“I’m of the school of thought saying that I’d rather be 30 percent protected than zero,” Walter said. “Knock on wood, I haven’t had influenza yet.”
Walter’s not alone in this thinking, and the CDC is encouraging people to get vaccinated even this late into the season. With hospitalization rates at an all-time high and the flu season still running rampant, preventative measures are crucial. The vaccinations can also decrease the severity of symptoms if the virus is contracted.
Aside from getting vaccinated, Walter says a big part of protecting yourself is keeping your hands clean and away from your face. The influenza virus can survive for 48 hours outside a body and things you unconsciously share with the general population (doorknobs, desks, etc.) can easily be harboring it. Washing your hands is the best defense, but, at the very least, make use of the sanitizer dispensers around campus and the cart wipes at grocery stores.
Donate at the Next Campus Blood Drive on April 11
Although East Central College has been a steady contributor to Mercy Blood Donor Services for years, Barkhurst noted that the recent scheduling changes at East Central College have caused some complications with planning drives.
“We are currently in a cycle of learning, again, about [the students] and how [they] are moving around on campus because we’ve seen a big drop in our donor base here.”
In hopes of getting more donors, Mercy is working closely with ECC’s Student Government to generate awareness and interest. Perks such as a t-shirt and gift card raffles will be offered when students make their life-saving donation.
According to the Mercy website, one out of three people will need donated blood in their lifetime, and this flu season is hitting the blood supply hard. Anyone fit and flu-free is encouraged to consider donating on April 11. To find more information about donating and other local drives, visit the Mercy and American Red Cross websites.