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Cough Cough: The flu’s effect on Glen Rock and the tri-state area
May 8, 2018
While the rest of her peers were at school, Mary Andreou sat alone on her couch surrounded by tissues and medicine. The glass coffee table was pulled close to the brown couch so she would not have to stand each time she needed something. Andreou applied Vicks to her head to soothe her headaches, battling the flu for five days. During this time she sat alone, becoming bored and worried about what was to come when she returned to school.
It is not uncommon for Andreu to get sick. She usually gets very sick once a year, with a few small colds. Because of this, she was not surprised when she learned that she had the flu. While she expected the flu, she was most concerned about getting strep throat additionally. Fortunately, she did not have strep throat but still had to deal with the flu. In order to treat the virus, Andreou rested and took over-the-counter medicine to help with her headaches and fever.
Despite the heightened flu season and the impact the flu has had on the tristate area, Andreou was not overly concerned about her case. While she had seen deaths from the flu covered on the news, she did not have a pre-existing health problem that would be an issue.
“I knew I was fine but it’s still really crazy to hear how many people are dying because of the flu,” Andreou said.
Despite feeling sick, Andreou embarked on her daily run. Realizing how tired and sore she felt afterwards, she considered her last days at school. She believes she must have gotten the flu from someone due to the heightened flu season.
“There are a lot of people who are sick in the school and who are getting sick in New Jersey in general,” Andreou said.
In order to prevent the flu or other illnesses, Andreou wears warm clothing in the winter, maintains good hygiene, and drinks water. One precaution that Andreou did not take was receiving the flu shot in the beginning of the season. Her mother had gotten sick after receiving the vaccine and did not want her to get it. While Andreou is not sure if it would have made a difference, she said she may get it next season.
As she began missing school, Andreou felt pressure to return because of all the material she was missing in her classes. She found that most of the pressure came from herself, and her parents and teachers added only a bit of pressure.
After being sick for a few days, she was eager to return to her daily life instead of being stuck home.
“After sitting on a couch for three days, you get really sick of it,” Andreou said.
Another one of Andreou’s peers has been affected by the heightened flu season despite her efforts to stay healthy.
Photo Credit: Madelyn Willoughby
The flu and school
During period one, Sofia Nolfo and her classmates sit in room S234 and prepare for their chemistry class. The desks are pushed into close groups of four and science themed posters line the walls. However, the mood was dreary as many of the desks were empty and coughing filled the silence throughout the classroom. Although many students were out with the flu, some chose to stay in school to prevent the stress caused by absences.
Sofia Nolfo is one of the many students at the high school who have gotten sick this winter. The week of the high school musical, Legally Blonde, Nolfo developed a severe throat infection that she thought would prevent her from performing.
Throughout the flu season, Nolfo had been trying to prevent a major illness like the one she developed in the previous school year. However, Nolfo still developed a throat infection that kept her home for a week.
Nolfo feels that she takes the measures necessary to protect herself from sickness by resting and avoiding people she knows are sick.
“If I feel myself getting tired and worn out I have to take a couple of hours to calm down,” Nolfo said.
In the previous school year, Nolfo had also gotten laryngitis and had to miss all of the high school musical shows despite the months she spent rehearsing. Nolfo loves to perform, and the illnesses were frustrating, but she knew she had to rest in order to be healthy again. These situations are not unique to Nolfo, she usually develops a cold that keeps her home from school three or four times a year.
As a young kid, Nolfo got the flu while the swine flu was going around, keeping her home for a week. She remembers having little motivation at the time because she was exhausted.
“When you’re a kid you have so much energy, and then all of a sudden you’re sick and you can’t do anything,” Nolfo said.
Like many students, Nolfo was feeling the pressure of a heavy workload in addition to her rehearsal schedule. “I was trying to do it all and I guess I just got worn out,” Nolfo said. Most of the pressure to return to school came from herself, and the worry that she would have to miss the high school musical again. She thinks that the pressure felt by many students dramatically affects their physical health to the point where they get sick and need to miss school.
Nolfo also has concerns about student health in general, with all of the viruses spreading through Glen Rock and other schools in New Jersey. It was scary for Nolfo to hear about all of the deaths from the flu in the tri-state area because her immune system was vulnerable. She was concerned she would develop the flu on top of her throat infection, despite the measures she was taking to heal.
Fortunately, Nolfo did not develop the flu, and she believes it may be a result of the flu vaccine that she received this year. She believes vaccination is important because when one’s immunity weakened, there is a higher chance of contracting the flu. While she knows that it is never a guarantee, she believes it is important to get the vaccine because the flu and other viruses can be unpredictable and taking an extra precaution might be helpful.
Academically, Nolfo had been keeping in touch with her teachers to receive some of the work she had missed but it was still difficult to catch up. Some of Nolfo’s teachers tend to assign a large amount of work, and catching up became a tiring process. However, as the marking period progressed, Nolfo began to recover in some of her harder classes.
“I talked to teachers about taking tests and homework and projects and most of them have been really understanding,” Nolfo said.
She feels that students need to take care of themselves first, and stay home if that is what they need. Students who are pushing themselves too hard will only make their illness worse, and it may result in even more lost time from school. Nolfo feels that most teachers are forgiving when it comes to missed work due to being sick, and it is important to contact them about it.
While Glen Rock has seen many cases of the flu, the issue has reached other parts of the tri-state area as well.
Photo Credit: Madelyn Willouhby
In the ER
Many sick patients crowded the hallways in the emergency room where Cinthia Holland worked because all the other rooms had already been taken. The staff was forced to move patients to chairs because all of their stretchers were in use and more people were still rushing in. The nurses and doctors scrambled to treat the ever growing number of patients that their resources could not keep up with. The vast majority of their patients had been hit with the same symptoms: coughing, a fever, and difficulty breathing.
During this flu season, the emergency room where Cinthia worked was often crowded with patients with flu-like symptoms.
“If I could compare, it would look like a battlefield,” Holland said.
Cinthia was an emergency room nurse for five years but now works in a Mobile Stroke Treatment Unit. She lives in Jersey City and has found that her area has also been dramatically affected by this flu season.
During her experience in the ER and as a nurse, she has seen many bad flu seasons that follow the same pattern each November. She sees the same rapid inflow of patients with flu-like symptoms and the fear that emerges because of it. However, Cinthia believes that the 2017 to 2018 flu season was one of the worst she has ever seen.
In order to protect the nurses in Cinthia’s hospital, the staff is required to receive the flu vaccine each season. Cinthia believes that the flu vaccine is important as an extra step to prevent the flu, especially for younger and older people. However, the issue with the vaccine is that it uses the virus from the previous flu season, which may not always protect the recipient. Despite this, Cinthia thinks it is a good precaution to take.
Cinthia has noticed that the flu can also affect older children and younger adults, regardless of the fact that they are generally more healthy and do not need to prevent the flu to the same extent as infants and the elderly. She finds that many of these people do not realize how serious their illness may be and do not see a doctor until their condition has worsened. Even if someone is generally healthy, Cinthia believes it is important to be conscious of not only others that may be sick, but also your own health. In order to prevent the flu, she suggests practicing good hygiene and thorough hand-washing with soap, water, and friction. She also believes that seeing a doctor about flu-like symptoms is a good precaution to take.
A common way that the flu is treated is with a medication called Tamiflu. This medication is antiviral and while it will not cure the flu, it can help shorten the life of the virus. However, this can only be given to a patient within the first 48 hours that they are sick and many patients at the ER have long passed that point. When the medicine cannot be given to the patient, the other way it can be treated is through rest, hydration, and other medication that may help calm the fever.
This issue has also reached Cinthia’s own home, her husband, David Holland, had the flu in January. David has been healthy for his whole life and rarely gets sick. When he got the flu, he was not expecting it to be an issue because his immune system is usually good at fighting against viruses. However, his flu soon became bronchitis, one step away from pneumonia.
On January 2, David first began feeling the flu symptoms and was in severe pain for three days. He was having trouble breathing and did not get out of bed. While David has been sick with the flu before, he felt that his recent flu was especially severe.
“It’s probably the worst I have ever gotten sick,” David said.
David did not get the flu vaccine this year, which he believes may have contributed to his illness. He usually does not get the flu vaccine because he believes that his immune system is strong enough to fight against the flu and getting sick once a year does not strongly impact his life. His employer is understanding when he needs to take sick days and there is not high pressure for him to return to work quickly. Sometimes his employer even encourages him to stay home to prevent spreading it around his office.
“Normally my body is good at fighting the flu so I figured it’d be fine,” David said.
At the time he did not know the severity of the flu and how badly it had been affecting the tri-state area. However, as his flu progressed he and his wife, Cinthia, felt he had to go see a doctor. While Cinthia was concerned and felt he needed treatment, she knew that he had the right to refuse treatment. But, she does suggest that people who suspect they may have the flu should see a doctor to keep their symptoms under control.
David received a chest x-ray and was thankful he did not have pneumonia, but he did have bronchitis.
Before this experience, David had not taken many measures to prevent the flu and other viruses. At the most he avoided people he knew were sick with the flu. After being sick with the flu this year, he believes his immune system is strong enough to fight this virus and others.
“While I ended up getting bronchitis,” David said, “if the flu was really as bad as it was, actually I think my body did a good job fighting it.”
Photo Credit: Madelyn Willoughby
History of the flu
The tri-state area faced fear throughout this flu season, and it is not a unique situation. A major flu epidemic occurred in 1918 that affected approximately 500 million people, estimated to have killed 20 to 50 million of them. The highly contagious flu first appeared in Europe, the United States, and certain areas in Asia. It then made its way across the world where it gathered its large number of casualties.
The spring of 1918 brought the first wave of this epidemic, the general flu symptoms were not severe and many survived. However, in the fall of that same year, it caused skin to turn blue and lungs to fill with fluid, causing many deaths. Almost 100 years later, a group of researchers discovered the reason for the epidemic’s severity in 2008. The virus was capable of weakening a victim’s bronchial tubes and opening their lungs to let bacterial pneumonia enter. It spread the same way the the flu spreads today: those infected release respiratory droplets that can then affect people who come into contact with them.
This flu was nicknamed the “Spanish flu” because most of the news coverage came from Spain, an area highly affected. They were able to release more information about this virus because they did not have to abide by censorship during to World War I, unlike unlike other countries.
A more recent flu epidemic occurred from 2009 to 2010 when an H1N1 flu virus broke out. It was nicknamed the “swine flu” and it caused the deaths of 12,000 people in the U.S. The fear of the flu comes from epidemics like these that have dangerous and powerful effects.
This current flu season has brought greater than 14,000 cases and three pediatric deaths involving the flu in New Jersey alone. The rest of the U.S. has also been highly impacted by this flu season.
Photo Credit: Madelyn Willoughby
The flu and young kids
The office’s exterior is made of dark brown bricks with a lighter brown around the front door. The sign above the door reads Tenafly Pediatrics, PA. Patients walk through the front glass doors and toward a desk area swarming with nurses and receptionists. The room splits into two sides, well and sick. Parents and kids sit and wait while some play with the toys around the room. The mural on the wall shows children playing happily, and fish are swimming in the fish tank in the center of the room. This is where Alina Sumarokov, M.D. practices, helping children and their parents learn about their health.
Sumarokov originally trained to be a pharmacist, but during the process she realized she was more interested in physiology and anatomy. This led her to medical school after working as a pharmacist for a year.
Tenafly Pediatrics was in high demand as more and more concerned parents brought their kids in to test them for the flu. The office began increasing its hours in order to accommodate all the incoming patients. The climax of the season for their office was February. Fortunately, the numbers have since decreased and are returning to normal. While Sumarokov estimates that she has seen around 500 to 600 kids, she guesses that the entire practice has seen thousands of kids with flu-like symptoms.
The many reports of death from the flu caused concern at Sumarokov’s practice, but she herself had not seen a particularly extreme case. Fortunately, she never had to send a child to the hospital due to flu-like symptoms.
In order to prevent kids from spreading the flu around school, Sumarokov tells families that a child should only return to school after 24 hours with no fever. However, Sumarokov noted that the way that the person feels is also important when making the decision to return to an average schedule. Sumarokov believes that a previous flu patient who still has concerning symptoms– fatigue, lack of appetite, vomiting, etc.– should still remain home for a few extra days.
Like Cinthia Holland, Sumarokov also treats the flu with Tamiflu. Sumarokov uses this on a case by case basis because she finds that many children do not require this medication unless they are very sick or have chronic diseases that may result in complications.
While Sumarokov feels it is important to prevent the flu and seek help when developing flu-like symptoms, she also recognizes the anxiety that many people have about the flu. She feels that the flu is often blown out of proportion by news coverage and notices that the majority of kids who develop the flu are well enough to fight it off. However, she said that she is always around to reassure concerned parents and their kids.
“I say this to all of my parents, if you really are worried and you would like for us to take a look at the child we’re always there,” Sumarokov said.