Bracing for the flu

College of Charleston campus health nurse Heather Hollandsworth gives Matt Tamburri, a junior from Cinnaminson, N.J., a flu shot last week. Tamburri got the shot after repeated requests from his mother, who has been alarmed by reports of the H1N1 strain hitting otherwise healthy young adults.

College of Charleston junior Matt Tamburri went to get a free flu shot at the school’s health clinic last week for a good reason.

But it wasn’t because he was scared of getting the flu.

“My mom has called me like eight times asking if I had gotten a flu shot and was ready to kill me if I didn’t,” says Tamburri, who is from Cinnaminson, N.J.

As South Carolina heads into what is usually considered the peak flu month of February, public health officials are making one final push urging residents to get a flu shot.

“Flu season is here,” says Dr. Riyahd Muhammad, a medical consultant for immunizations for the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. “Because flu season usually peaks in February and it takes about two weeks for the flu vaccine to work, it’s not too late.”

The predominant strain is a familiar foe: the 2009 Influenza A H1N1 virus, aka “swine flu.”

According to the latest weekly “Flu Watch” posted by the state health department, for the week ending January 11, 86.6 percent of lab-confirmed flu tests since Sept. 29, 2013 were positive for H1N1. For the week of Jan. 4-11, 77.8 percent were positive for the strain.

Muhammad reiterated that the strain hits healthier, young adults harder than most strains, but that all at-risk populations — young children, pregnant women, seniors and those with other health complications — also are vulnerable.

Last week, the College of Charleston was experiencing “an uptick in flu cases,” according to Jane Reno-Munro, director of student health services and nurse practitioner.

“It’s typical for this time of year because a lot of students are coming back to school and bringing their germs with them,” says Reno-Munro.

In an attempt to head off a campus-wide flu outbreak, Reno-Munro says health services has canceled all “nonessential appointments” for the next two weeks to focus on upper-respiratory acute illnesses, such as the flu.

Health services also sent out separate mass emails to students, faculty and staff, and the custodial and residence hall staff, noting the increase in cases and to take preventive steps for hygiene.

For students and staff, the email reminded all of symptoms of the flu — fever, cough, body aches, sore throat and/or vomiting and diarrhea — and to avoid contact with others for at least 24 hours after fever ceases. For custodial staff, health services asked for extra efforts to clean surfaces, such as doorknobs and keyboards, and to keep soap and towels well-stocked.

Those current efforts are in addition to those earlier in the year to get as many students vaccinated and educated about flu prevention as possible.

“We placed ourselves in places where students practically had to crawl over us to get by,” joked Reno-Munro, adding that health services gave 2,000 free flu shots. She added, however, that the campus hosts 12,000 students.

At The Citadel and Charleston Southern University, flu outbreaks appear par for the course.

According to Citadel Public Information Coordinator Kim Keelor-Parker, The Citadel has six confirmed cases of the flu since returning from the “winter furlough.”

“The flu on campus for the past several years has been minimal,” says Keelor-Parker.

“Several teams on campus work diligently to keep it that way. Just prior to the return of the Corps from winter furlough, the Office of the Commandant requested that efforts to sanitize highly populated areas be stepped up. Our facilities team added the extra measures of using disinfectant foggers and amplifying the attention given to cleaning handrails and door knobs.”

Besides offering flu shots and encouraging frequent hand washing, the school offers a check of Vitamin D levels.

Keelor-Parker says students and staff can get health alerts at www.citadel.edu/root/infirmary-health-updates.

Charleston Southern Dean Clark Carter says he has not heard of any increases in flu at the school.

“The biggest problem we had was getting students back on campus in time for school to start on January 6. Many were stuck in airports or could not drive down because of the cold weather,” says Carter.

Despite the efforts to promote flu shots, some locals who have recently endured the flu had a vaccine earlier this year.

Local dentist Owen Ravenel was vaccinated in October but got nailed with the bug a week ago Sunday.

“I woke up and I was crazy. My whole body was shakin’, jimmerin’ and jamming,’ ” recalls the 72-year-old, in a phone interview on Wednesday, noting his temperature spiked to 103.9.

He contacted his physician about it, got a prescription for Tamiflu and started taking it Monday. That, in addition to taking Tylenol Extra Strength morning, noon and night, and using a Neti pot to flush his sinuses with warm salt water with drops of golden seal (recommended by his doctor) gave him temporary relief from the symptoms.

With the Tamiflu, Ravenel expected his flu symptoms to last a week, but that even on Wednesday, he felt like he was on the mend. He also thinks the flu shot likely lessened the severity of the virus on his body.

Like Ravenel, Mount Pleasant resident Howard Chalmers got the flu shot in October and came down with the flu shortly after flying back from the Bowl Championship Series National Championship Game.

On Jan. 10, Chalmers had a 102.5 degree temperature and also started taking Tamiflu.

“Today is the first day I’ve felt human again,” says Chalmers, in a phone interview Wednesday. “It’s nice to be in the office and not feel like I’m infecting anyone.”

Reach David Quick at 937-5516.