c/o CDC

c/o CDC

Classmates missing from lectures, faces hidden behind masks, a return to hybrid classes for some: the flu is circulating around campus, along with other viruses such as COVID-19. In a campus-wide email on Wednesday, Feb. 7, Medical Director Thomas McLarney announced that there have been over 85 cases of influenza A—the most common flu strain in adults—reported to Davison Health Center since the semester began. Davison has urged students, faculty, and staff to take precautions, including washing hands, wearing masks, and getting vaccinated.

“When people ask me to describe flu symptoms, I usually tell them that the flu will not feel like a truck ran them over,” McLarney wrote in the campus-wide email. “Instead, it will feel like that truck ran over them and then backed up several times.”

The flu is often associated with the winter months, typically peaking in January and February. The phrase flu season, however, is something of a misnomer, according to McLarney. The flu can begin spreading as early as October and end as late as March, and outbreaks—such as the infamous swine flu of April 2009—can occur during any time of year.

“[The flu] is just not that prevalent during the months that are ‘off flu season,’” McLarney wrote in an email to The Argus. “Flu seasons vary from ‘light’ to very ‘active.’”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there have been at least 22 million cases of the flu in the United States this flu season, with 250,000 hospitalizations and 15,000 deaths. These numbers are approaching those of the 2022–2023 flu season, but are significantly higher than those of the 2021–2022 flu season. The COVID-19 pandemic—which exposed fewer people to other viruses and may have increased susceptibility to the flu—may be responsible for the rebound in flu cases this year, according to McLarney.

“Now that we are back to normalcy in regards to Covid, flu is definitely a contender,” McLarney wrote. “Many variables go into how robust the flu season will be and many times this is not sorted out until after…. Some experts feel that we were just due for a robust flu season.”

Other viruses are circulating as well, although a so-called twindemic—when outbreaks of two diseases, such as the flu and COVID-19, occur concurrently—has not come to pass on campus. According to McLarney, there have been fewer than 25 cases of COVID-19 reported to Davison Health Center since the semester began, with no more than 10 concurrent active cases.

“Fortunately the number of Covid cases has been much [lower than] in previous years at the beginning of the semester,” McLarney wrote.

McLarney emphasized that vaccination is the best preventative measure against the flu. Vaccination lowers the risk of illness by 40% to 60% and reduces the severity and duration of symptoms if the flu is contracted.

“[The components of the vaccine] vary form year to year based on influenza patterns,” McLarney wrote. “Some years the experts nail it and other times not. Nonetheless, the vaccine is protective.”

Although the CDC recommends getting vaccinated by the end of October, it is not too late to receive a flu shot. According to McLarney, it takes approximately two weeks after vaccination to achieve full immunity, but anyone who has not gotten vaccinated already should still get the flu shot, which is required for all students without religious or medical exemptions. Documentation of vaccination status can be uploaded through WesPortal.

“I would advise folks to get a flu vaccine if they have not done so,” McLarney wrote. “If you already had the flu, get the vaccine once you have recovered. You can contract another strain of flu this semester.”

The University ran its annual flu clinic for students last semester at the end of October and beginning of November. Students, however, can still get vaccinated at local pharmacies.

“Vaccinate!!” McLarney wrote. “I am a strong advocate of vaccination. It is the number one preventative measure.”

McLarney advised that people with an egg allergy can still get a flu shot, and that vaccine side effects—which can include aches, low-grade fever, and soreness—should not be a deterrent. The flu can lead to serious complications, such as pneumonia, for anyone and is particularly dangerous for the very young, elderly, and immunocompromised. Getting vaccinated protects individuals as well as more vulnerable populations.

“The flu vaccine does not cause the flu,” McLarney wrote. “[Side effects are] the body’s response to the vaccine. The symptoms one can experience with the flu are significant.”

In addition to getting vaccinated, there are other steps that students, faculty, and staff can take to decrease the spread of viruses on campus. McLarney recommended washing hands with soap and water frequently, using alcohol-based hand sanitizers when soap and water are unavailable, coughing into the inside of your elbow, and avoiding contact with other people’s saliva, such as by sharing drinks and utensils.

The flu is most contagious during the first three to four days of illness, although infection may be possible one day before symptoms begin and up to seven days after. McLarney advised that anyone with respiratory symptoms, regardless of the cause, should wear a mask in public.

“Masking helps to decrease the spread of contagion, whether it is caused by the flu, COVID-19, RSV, or any of the other circulating winter viruses,” McLarney wrote.

McLarney noted that antiviral medications can shorten the duration of the flu by approximately 18 hours if started within the first 48 hours of symptoms and are available by prescription. While antivirals can have side effects such as nausea, vomiting, headache, and neuropsychiatric symptoms, these medications can be important for the immunocompromised or hospitalized. However, over-the-counter treatments should be enough for most who contract the flu.

“In most cases, recovery from flu just requires good self care: rest, hydration, fever reducing medications, medications that can ease cough and congestion,” McLarney wrote.

Although McLarney advises students not to go to class if they have a fever or feel too sick, Davison only provides sick notes for students with conditions that require more than a week to recover, such as COVID-19 and concussions. For conditions with a shorter duration, such as the flu, medical staff ask students to sign a form that lets them confirm that they were seen at Davison if a professor calls. Two students—Diana Tran ’26 and Drew Olsen ’24—who tested positive for COVID-19 this semester mentioned that they attended classes online when possible while isolating.

“Most of my classes have an online option that the professor set up, but for some of my classes that isn’t possible so I’m just missing 1–2 weeks of classes, depending on how long my quarantine is,” Olsen wrote in an email to The Argus.

While Tran was able to isolate safely in her single in Writer’s Block, she noted that her symptoms—which included a fever, sore throat, and cough—made it difficult to eat meals.

“Isolation was fine, but I had a difficult time obtaining food especially because my appetite just disappeared and it was hard for me to eat,” Tran wrote in an email to The Argus. “It’s a blessing that the Resource Center has microwave oatmeal and microwave soup though.”

Olsen had less severe symptoms than Tran, but they were concerned about the risk of infecting others. They emphasized that it is important for close contacts to wear masks indoors. According to McLarney, Davison has been busy lately due to the spread of viruses. Both Tran and Olsen have also noticed an increase in people getting sick.

“There’s so many sick people,” Tran wrote in an email to The Argus. “As I was going to Davison to make an appointment to see if COVID was still affecting me…I bumped into one of my friends who told me his friend needed COVID tests. And inside the medical center, I bumped into another friend who had the flu. Recently, I bumped into yet another friend with the flu too.”

Students should contact Davison Health Center at 860-685-2470 for more information about the flu and other medical concerns. Davison Health Center is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for appointments and on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for urgent care; outside these operating hours, there is a message center for urgent medical concerns.

“Our mission is to take care of the student body,” McLarney wrote. “If we know that we are looking at a potentially very busy day, our staff will meet and devise a plan to get our students seen in a timely and efficient manner.”

Elias Mansell can be reached at emansell@wesleyan.edu.