Each year, the influenza virus kills thousands of people. In Indiana alone this season, 107 people have been confirmed to have lost their lives to the flu. To date this year, only two people under the age of 24 have died from the flu.
Although AU’s Health Services could not confirm the number of cases that have been treated so far this semester, they did confirm via email that they have “seen an increase in the number of patients with flu-like symptoms.”
According to Dr. Kimberly Lyle-Ippolito, professor of biology, death associated with the flu is usually because of the body’s immune response to the virus.
“The virus is bad enough, but it’s your immune response to the virus that ends up killing us,” she said. “Your lungs fill with water because your white bloods cells are getting there and going, ‘Oh, we have to fight this, this is bad,’ and they’re having a battle, and this battle ends up creating fluid and pus, which is in your lungs.”
According to Lyle-Ippolito, once the virus has entered the respiratory cells it begins to replicate itself. After it replicates, it “buds out through the cell membrane and damages the cells” that it first replicated in.
The disease usually only infects the respiratory system, which leads to symptoms such as:
-Chills and sweats
-Muscle or body aches
-Sneezing or stuffy nose
However, the flu can infect more areas of the body. Lyle-Ippolito says this usually occurs when people are immunosuppressed, are very young or elderly.
“When [you are immunosuppressed], it gets deeper into the lungs,” she said. “The immune system doesn’t stop it in the upper part of your lungs. You end up getting pneumonia or it crosses the blood-brain barrier or the heart. It ends up leaving the respiratory tract and going to other parts of the body because your immune system is not happy.”
Since antibiotics only work on bacteria, and therefore not the influenza virus, Lyle-Ippolito says that people must rely on having a healthy immune system to support them through the disease.
“Basically, we have to hope that your body is healthy,” she said. “Get your sleep, make sure you’re eating your dark green vegetables.”
There are a few drugs on the market, such as Tamiflu, that are given to patients before or right after they have been exposed to the virus in order to reduce symptoms and longevity of the virus.
“There are drugs that can be taken that sometimes we give prophylactically that affect the flu’s ability to get out of its casing and get into your cell, but if it’s already gotten out of the casing and into your cell, then we can’t stop it,” Lyle-Ippolito said. “We give those drugs to old people, very very young people or people who are definitely immunosuppressed, you know, cancer, chemo, that sort of thing.
“But for most supposedly healthy people, it’s your immune system, and that’s all you’ve got to fight it with,” she said.
Lyle-Ippolito noted that college students are at especially high risk for getting the flu.
“Most college students are immunosuppressed,” she said. “They’re stressed, and they’re constantly being bombarded with other [pathogens], so their immune system is always on guard. They also have not sleeping, not eating. I mean, Chick-Fil-A pickles do not count as vegetables. You’ve got to be eating healthy and take care of yourself.”
Additionally, even students who take care of themselves may be at a high risk for catching the flu due to the nature of communal living.
“That’s what makes for epidemics,” said Lyle-Ippolito. “Whenever you crowd people together, they pass things around. Dorm life is communal living at its worst.
“Just walking into the dining hall, there are thousands of particles put into the air with each sneeze and each cough,” she said. “They go out through the air, and we all breathe them. If you are sitting in a classroom with one person who has the flu, every person in the room will be exposed to the flu, and depending on their immune systems, they may or may not get sick.”
Lyle-Ippolito said that there are several homeopathic treatments, such as zinc supplements, echinacea and chicken noodle soup that may help prevent or reduce symptoms of the flu.
“There are some downsides to [homeopathic treatments], so you have to be careful,” she said.
The beginning of each semester presents its own new set of problems, and for Lyle-Ippolito, one of those is exposure to new germs.
“The beginning of the semester is like one big cauldron of diseases,” she said.