Seasonal Flu Hits Campus Hard

Madeline Chang ’22

The United States has been experiencing a difficult flu season for the second year in a row, with a national death toll between 14,000 and 36,000, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). On campus, the Health Center is overwhelmed. Health officials are stressing the need to continue  to be vigilant against the influenza virus, even as media attention is absorbed by the threat of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

Influenza is more prevalent throughout the U.S. this winter compared with previous years, particularly having a large impact on children. National Broadcasting Company (NBC) Connecticut reports that in Connecticut alone, the number of hospitalizations for influenza is approaching 2,000, and 49 people have died.

In the U.S., the CDC estimates that there have been approximately 29 million cases of influenza this year, with 280,000 hospitalizations and 16,000 deaths.

These numbers are still lower than last year’s, when there were 35.5 million cases, 490,600 hospitalizations, and 34,200 deaths, but flu season is far from over. Flu season usually lasts until April, but has occasionally lingered until May; so, it is expected that the numbers will continue to rise. In fact, in some years, the number of flu cases did not peak until March.

In comparison, as of Tuesday, only  118 cases and nine death in the U.S. have been reported as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, according to The New York Times. Although the coronavirus is deadlier than influenza, with a mortality rate of approximately 2% compared with 0.1% for the seasonal flu, the flu is spreading far quicker  in the United States Dr. Jared Zelman, medical director of the Health Center, said, “The flu is much more of a threat to the students [than the coronavirus here at school].”

While the number of influenza cases on campus is similar to previous years so far, the flu season started much later than it usually does, which meant that the cases have been concentrated into a smaller time frame. 

This concentration of cases has left the Health Center overwhelmed. If the number of ill students exceeds the number of beds in the Health Center, students who have single rooms will be sent to stay in their rooms and will have food brought to them.

According to Ms. Danielle Shippey,  director of health services, there have been 49 cases of the flu among students since October. The Health Center provided 446 flu vaccines, but some students also received the vaccine outside of school. The Health Center has a total of 14 beds; four of them are licensed by the State of Connecticut for overnight stays. 

Ms. Shippey said, “Admission to the Health Center is determined on a case by case basis depending on the presenting symptoms and assessment. We always want students who are feeling unwell to come to the Health Center to be evaluated and receive the appropriate care. Students are admitted for a variety of reasons, not just the flu, and we are always attentive to separating students who may be contagious.”

Vaccines are not 100% effective against influenza because the virus has many different strains and can mutate quickly into novel forms. However, getting the vaccine is still vital because those with the vaccine who do contract the virus tend to be more protected against life-threatening complications and get well sooner. To protect against influenza, health officials emphasize that it is still not too late to get vaccinated. The CDC estimates that the flu vaccine is about 45% effective this year, which CDC officials say is better than the average 40% efficacy rate. 

There are also many small things community members can do to prevent the spread of influenza. Dr. Zelman said, “We hope that all the students use the usual precautions, which are the same for both the flu and the coronavirus: copious handwashing, staying away from hugging and sharing food and drinks, and elbow bumps [instead of handshakes or high fives].”