Nurse educator provides tips for staying healthy this winter
There are two seasons in Edmonton: winter and construction season. But even though we may lack extended autumn months (cut short by either a summer that lingers or freezing temperatures that come much too soon), influenza season creeps in during that tiny window when the leaves change.
Coughing, sneezing, fatigue, fever, chills and aches and more—it’s never a dull moment this time of year.
“If you look at all the different strains of influenza, they’re usually circulating in the northern hemisphere in the winter season,” explains Barb Borkent, nurse educator in the Faculty of Nursing. “The viruses that we see circulating in the southern hemisphere during our summer months are more often than not the viruses we will see here in the winter.”
The influenza virus is able to spread before an infected person even knows they’re sick. “A person is quite contagious 24 hours before they start having symptoms,” says Barb. “So it’s important that you’re aware it’s around so you can avoid close contact with people.”
How to stay healthy
Here is Barb’s advice for staying healthy during flu season:
Keep your distance
The flu is spread through “droplets”—which can cover a three-foot distance when a person coughs or sneezes. Barb advises keeping a distance from others and encourages opting for fist bumps rather than handshakes.
Anyone in Alberta over the age of six months should get the influenza vaccine (which is free at mass immunization clinics and pharmacies around the city. MacEwan is also hosting drop-in clinics at City Centre Campus from October 24 to 26 and at Alberta College Campus on October 27.).
“By getting your influenza vaccine, you are preventing the spread,” she says. “What’s critical is that we find healthy people often visit family members or friends who are at risk—a grandparent you visit at Thanksgiving, or people with newborn babies, or friends who have a chronic illness.”
Think you’re healthy because you don’t have any symptoms? Think again. People can carry the virus without showing any symptoms and still put others at risk.
“You have to remember that from the time you’re exposed to the time you get symptoms can be as short as two days,” says Barb, “but it takes up to two weeks for the vaccine to give you full protection.”
Practice “respiratory etiquette”
If you are starting to feel unwell, sneeze or cough into your elbow or sleeve. The virus will be absorbed into the material and not as easily spread.
Barb adds that the number one thing anyone can do in terms of prevention is handwashing. Use soap and water for at least 15 seconds—the length of “Happy Birthday” twice or “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” You can also use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer after coming in contact with an ill person or an object they’ve touched. “As we see students sharing keyboard trays in the library or touching buttons in the elevator, it’s important to think about carrying an alcohol-based rub with you,” she says.
Take care of yourself
Self care is critical at any point of your university experience. Balance your workload, eat well, exercise regularly and find time to do something you love. It’s too easy at this time of year to get bogged down in studying and exams—in addition to everything going on in your personal life—so avoid reaching for comfort junk foods and energy drinks to manage your stress.
And no matter how difficult, make sure you find time to get a good night’s sleep.
If all else fails, brew some tea, pull your blankets up to your chin and stay home. You may think you’re letting your profs and classmates down, but you’re doing everyone a favour by limiting the spread of the virus.
Barb understands it’s not easy for students (or staff and faculty members) to make the decision to stay home when they’re under the weather—and under deadlines. She recommends planning ahead for the what-ifs so assignments are not left until the last minute. “Plan ahead for the emergencies when you might not be able to do the work you thought you could,” she says.
Statistics research forecasts flu season
Forecasting rates of influenza across Canada is valuable in terms of putting preventative measures in place to lower the incidence of flu. For mathematics major Miguel Macaraig (pictured right), it was also a major research endeavour he undertook in Fall 2016 as part of his STAT 370: Applied Time Series Analysis course.
Professor Dr. Cristina Anton gave Miguel a seasonality data set related to influenza in Canada. “The data set is a monster,” says Miguel. “You have to identify the seasonality, you have to see any particular patterns or behaviours, so for me as a student, it gave me a great opportunity to apply what I’ve learned from the class.”
His research focused on predicting future flu rates in Canada by establishing a time series model using weekly reports of the percentage of flu from September 7, 2003 to August 23, 2015. Miguel omitted the last 10 weeks of 2015 so he could develop his prediction—and was pleased to discover that his prediction came very close to the omitted data set.
Miguel presented his work at Student Research Day and was one of two MacEwan students invited to the Canadian Statistics Student Conference in Winnipeg in June. Both students won in the undergraduate poster competition at the conference—Miguel for his “A Time Series Approach for Forecasting the Weekly Percentages of Influenza in Canada” poster.
Miguel says presenting his work at the national level was an important experience.
“Before I attended the conference, I was thinking I might not pursue grad school,” he says. “Afterward, I realized grad school would let me do a lot more with statistical analysis. It would give me the extra artillery I wouldn’t get in the undergrad.”
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