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As February wears on, the influenza virus has officially returned in full force to Pennsylvania. The state is experiencing its worst flu season in several years, experts say.

As the flu enters week nine of a 16-week cycle, the Philadelphia Department of Public Health has tracked 47,752 reported cases in Pennsylvania compared to 26,675 cases this time last year.

There have also already been 91 flu-related deaths this season — a significant rise from 38 at this point in the 2017 season. However, Penn doctors say campus is faring pretty well in comparison to years past.

Despite the fact that the Pennsylvania Department of Health has tracked the high increase in influenza cases this year, Executive Director of Penn Student Health Service Giang Nguyen said SHS was seeing “a fairly similar volume of cases as in busy seasons in the past.” 

Experts say the reason for this overall rise across the state may be ineffective flu vaccines. Many flu patients had already been vaccinated, but the vaccine seems to be ineffective against the particularly aggressive strain, H3N2, currently circulating the state and country. Another reason for the sharp rise in cases nationally may be that another strain, H1N1, has presented itself in some parts of the country. 

Director of Campus Health Initiatives at SHS Ashlee Halbritter said the virus may not have hit Penn’s campus quite as hard as the rest of the city because of the annual flu clinic held in Houston Hall, which saw its largest turnout in eight or nine years this year.

This year, 6,400 people got vaccinations at the clinic, surpassing last year's count of 5,420 people.

Although the current strain circulating the city is more resistant to vaccines, which Halbritter agreed are not 100 percent effective, the overall increase in campus immunity helped to decrease the epidemic's impact on Penn. 

"What we saw last year and still have been seeing this year is that if you do have the flu vaccine and still feel like you’re having flu-like symptoms, they’re much less severe than for those who did not get the flu vaccine,” Halbritter said.  

Halbritter and Nguyen both emphasized the importance of getting rest as an immediate course of action after contracting any illness. 

“Make sure you listen to your body and back off on any extra things you may do," Nguyen said. "If you’re feeling sick, it’s your body telling you that you need to slow down." 

Things are rarely that simple on Penn’s campus, though, as students said they often feel pushed to go to class and engage in extracurricular activities when sick. 

“I felt almost forced to go to school,” Wharton freshman Nathalie Falcão said. “I don’t want to be penalized for missing class."

Nguyen said students who do not suffer from a chronic illness and are not pregnant shouldn't contact SHS for at least a few days and should instead focus on self-care, a tip that sick students say they take primarily due to SHS's inconvenience. 

“I didn’t go to SHS because if I move too much when I’m sick I feel like I’m going to throw up," Falcão said. "If you’re seriously sick you’re not up to walk that far, especially not now in the cold, just to get the one absence."

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