“I really can’t stay, but baby, it’s cold outside,” Dean Martin’s famous holiday song implies the changing of seasons at Missouri Western State University.
Bundling up to stay warm on your way to class, making sure your hot chocolate isn’t too hot and planning winter break should be the least of students’ worries because holiday cheer isn’t the only thing spreading this year.
Every winter season, a viral threat looms on the horizon. Flu season will soon be in full effect. Students, faculty and all other members of the campus are all packed tightly into a communal area which facilitates the spread of illness. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), calculated a national percentage of individuals that displayed flu-like illness at hospitals and clinics.
The percentage was at its peak in March of 2018 at 7.5 percent, which hasn’t been this high since the flu pandemic of 2009 that reached a max of 7.7 percent. Aimee Cunningham, author of the article “Scientists Are Tracking How the Flu Moves Through a College Campus,” supported how easily this illness spreads through populations, especially college campuses.
“Campus life typically challenges students with new opportunities for learning, discovery — and intimacy with germs. Lots of germs,” Cunningham said.
Many students are familiar with the term “flu,” but many don’t understand the illness behind it. According to the CDC, influenza, or seasonal influenza, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by a virus that can infect the nose, throat and sometimes the lungs. Flu virus spreads mainly through direct contact with people who have already contracted the virus or by touching objects that have been contaminated and then touching their own mouth or nose.
The symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny/stuffy nose, head/body aches, chills and fatigue. Individuals can spread the virus during the first 3-4 days after they begin to display symptoms. Beth Roderick, family nurse practitioner at the campus health center, confirmed that those that are present with flu-like symptoms need to stay at home or in their dorms as the flu is very contagious.
There is no simple medication that will rid a person from the flu once they contract it. In some cases, antivirals may be recommended, but the only true treatment is to get plenty of fluids and rest, and let your body’s immune system fight off the virus itself.
Spread of Flu and Outbreaks on Campus
Campus life is the ideal environment for the influenza virus to proliferate. Considering factors such as college students certain lack of cleanliness, sharing of personal items and the lack better judgement to stay home when they’re sick, only further spreads the virus, promoting major outbreaks on campus every year.
The Esry Health Center on campus tries to provide information such as “Flu Epidemic Attendance Expectations.” This information highlights the importance of students and faculty to stay home when they are displaying flu symptoms in attempt to limit outbreaks of the flu. Roderick explained why many students fear missing class due to illness.
“A lot of people were still going to class even though they had flu symptoms because they didn’t want to get in trouble and lose their attendance points,” Roderick said.
Roderick addressed students’ concerns when she said that the attendance expectations document was distributed directly to faculty and professors. These professors were a lot more understanding with students who contracted the flu, giving them lenience to miss class to get better and limit the spread of the flu.
Prevent Yourself from Contracting the Flu
There are various personal measures that are common knowledge that members of the campus can take to prevent contracting the virus and in spreading the illness. Common knowledge dictates that avoiding contact with individuals that are already sick, frequent hand washing and covering your mouth or nose when you cough/sneeze are all good habits to develop during the winter months. Roderick also suggested carrying hand sanitizer and getting the yearly flu shot.
Personal measures are one way to prevent contracting the flu, but there are places where control may be out of the students’ hands. Communal places such as the cafeteria, library and computer labs are frequently trafficked, and therefore hotbeds for the spread of the flu.
There is no current preventative measure put into place besides routine cleaning. Jennifer Greiner, registered nurse at the health center, suggested a solution that puts some of the power back into the hands of students. She proposed that the campus should start providing sanitation wipes like Clorox wipes so that students can wipe down supplies and surfaces that they will use.
One of the most crucial measures to prevent contracting the influenza virus is to receive the seasonal flu vaccine. Maddy Dollar, a business management major, spoke about the significance of gathering the right information when it comes to the flu shot.
Dollar, who gets sick with the flu every year, stated that it’s important for people to educate themselves about the flu vaccine before they get it, but it comes down to a personal preference if one gets it or not.
Roderick, with her extensive experience working cold/flu epidemics on campus, further supported the importance of getting the flu shot every year.
“We definitely recommend getting the flu vaccine every year because the flu that is prominent changes every year, so the flu shot changes every year with the different strains,” Roderick said.
The flu vaccine typically contains several inactive forms of the virus to maximize its effectiveness. The strains consist of more than one virus. It is suggested as a preventative measure every year because the vaccine itself changes every season in accordance to what strains are predicted to be the most present that year.
Roderick explained its usefulness when she said that on a good year, it can be 60 percent effective against contracting the flu, and if you do get the flu, your symptoms aren’t going to be as severe. The Esry Health Center encourages students to seek places that they may receive the vaccine.
The Student Health Fair, held in late September, advertised and administered flu vaccinations to students for free. They purchased a large amount of flu vaccines – about 200 – and used all of them. While not actively offered at the health center now, it is still encouraged for members on campus to receive them from other sources like Walgreens, CVS or Urgent Care facilities. The flu shot costs $40.99 at most places, but depending on the insurance provider, the cost may be significantly less.