Homewood Campus sees increase in cases of influenza virus

By KELECHI NWANKWOALA | February 22, 2018



HelWell diagnosed almost twice as many cases of the flu this year in comparison to last year.

In the past few months, more Hopkins students have fallen ill with the flu than in recent years. The Health and Wellness Center (HelWell) reports that it has diagnosed 107 cases of the flu since November. Last school year, between November and February, HelWell diagnosed 57 cases. 

Students across campus are dealing with the fallout of coughing, fever and missing classes. Freshman Olivia Brown recalled how her sickness quickly escalated. 

“I have a history of asthma and pneumonia and bronchitis, so I assumed it was nothing. But by like 10 p.m. that night I couldn’t breathe, so I went to the ER,” she said. “I went from fine to having an above 104 fever.” 

Brown said she stayed in the hospital for six hours, where doctors gave her Tylenol in addition to IVs to help with dehydration. She also had a chest x-ray taken. Brown is unsure of how she contracted the flu but said it was probably due to close contact with peers. 

“I got sick the same way anyone gets sick in college,” she said. “We’re around people who are sick all the time.”

Freshman Maggie Linhart was in bed for three days before she eventually reached out for help.

“I thought it was getting better, and then it started to get worse. My fever spiked up to 103,” she said. 

Linhart called the Hopkins Emergency Response Organization (HERO) for advice. While they were unable to provide assistance, they suggested that she go to the hospital. 

Other students, like freshman Sonomi Oyagi, lamented how long the flu kept them in their beds. Seeking treatment was key to Oyagi’s recovery. 

“I was out for three days. I spent all of Sunday in bed doing nothing,” Oyagi said. “I went to the doctor and got fluids and a breathing treatment because I was pretty wheezy at that point. They gave me a prescription for Tamiflu so I started taking that.”

Similarly, Linhart described how she had to miss four days of class because of the flu. The flu not only kept students from attending their classes, but also from work and other obligations. In addition, students had to navigate absence policies and ask for extensions on missed assignments. For senior Taylor Veracka, coming down with the flu caused some stress in terms of her workload. 

“Both of my academic classes only meet once a week, so I was nervous about being behind. Luckily the professors were not overly concerned,” she wrote in an email to The News-Letter. 

Many students said that their professors were understanding of their illness and did not penalize them for missing class. Some, like Oyagi, asked for extensions on assignments, which were granted. 

According to HelWell Director Roanna Kessler, the risk of contracting the flu is amplified by the college environment, in which everyone lives in close contact with each other. Kessler explained how HelWell has prepared for this flu season. 

“We have been working since August to prevent the spread of flu at Hopkins by offering a total of 9 on-campus flu vaccine clinics as well as offering the vaccine during clinic visits,” she wrote in an email to The News-Letter

In addition, HelWell worked with the Provost and President’s Office to draft letters informing students about the flu season and how to prevent the spread of the disease. 

They sent information to Residential Life on flu prevention and asked that it be posted in residence halls. HelWell also has flu information posted on their website. 

In terms of treatment, HelWell has a variety of resources. They currently give out free face masks, hand sanitizer, ibuprofen, acetaminophen and thermometers, and they also carry free cold-care kits containing cough drops, tissues, tea and soup for people in need.

HelWell also offers medical services to people who come in for treatment. 

“[We] offer same day assessment by a triage nurse to sick students,” Kessler wrote. “During the visit the provider will assess the student for signs and symptoms of the flu. We have a free rapid flu test that we use if the diagnosis or management would be affected by the test outcome.“

Even before students contract the disease though, there are multiple steps that can be taken to decrease the spread of the flu. Kessler recommends washing hands or using hand sanitizer often. If students live in a residence hall, they should disinfect surfaces that have a lot of human contact. If students do get the flu, Kessler suggests that they stay home until they have been fever free for 24 hours. 

In terms of prevention, Kessler stressed the importance of getting the flu vaccine as the primary means of protection. Last year HelWell gave a total of 1,743 flu vaccines. This year they have given 1,697 to date. 

“We also have difficulty getting more students vaccinated since this is a young healthy population and students may think that because they have never gotten the flu before there is no need for the vaccine,” she wrote. “Other students are worried that the vaccine itself will make them sick — which is not true since the vaccine contains an inactivated virus.”

Even though studies have shown that this year’s flu shot is not as effective, Kessler still thinks it can be helpful as a preventative measure. 

“According to the CDC, this year’s flu shot is 36% effective,” Kessler wrote. “Last year’s flu shot was around 40% effective. In a ‘good match’ year the efficacy is above 50%, however, there are still many advantages to getting the vaccine — including less severe symptoms if you do get the flu.”

Still many students, like Veracka, chose not to get the shot for other reasons, even ones as simple as a lack of free time. 

“I did not get the flu shot this year, and I normally always do. I just found myself to be so busy that I kept putting it off, saying, I’ll do it tomorrow, next week, eventually,” she wrote.

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