FSU braces for flu

The flu began spreading on campus during the last weeks of January, according to Ilene Hofrenning, director of the Health Center.

According to Hofrenning, roughly 20-25 students were experiencing flu-like symptoms by the end of January.

“The flu is very unpredictable. It’s hard to know. We go day by day. It can mutate during the season and become more or less severe. This week has been less – maybe three or four [cases] this week so far. I’m not sure if that’s true for the rest of Massachusetts, too. The flu usually peaks around February,” she said.

She said students are typically sick for four to five days. She suggests students diagnosed with the flu go home.

Hofrenning added it is hard to tell how dangerous the flu will be. Usually a “cluster” of students come down with the flu at a time.

FSU experienced its worst flu outbreak in 2009 with H1N1, or swine flu. Hofrenning said, “We had at least 100 – 150 students sick with the flu. It started in the fall.” This year, the strain of flu affecting students is H3N2.

“We encourage students to go home if they live here. If they live in Larned Hall or Corinne Hall Towers, the bathroom is down the hall, so we give them masks to use in the bathroom,” she said.

Glenn Cochran, director of Residence Life and associate dean of students, said some students live close enough to head home, but the Health Center will let Residence Life know if a student has the flu and is not going home.

Cochran said the Health Center instructs students to wear a respiratory mask and isolate themselves if they must remain on campus while sick.

He added students “should stay home for at least 24 hours after their fever is gone without the use of fever-reducing medicine.

“We look at isolation options on a case-by-case basis, but because we generally do not have single rooms with private restrooms, complete isolation is often not an available option,” he said. “Moving sick students to other buildings or floors with community bathrooms can result in exposing more individuals to flu viruses.”

Hofrenning said the Health Center works with Dining Services to provide take-out meals to students who are in isolation. Also, the center will contact the dean’s office to make sure students’ absences will be excused.

Dean of Students Meg Nowak said when an illness lasts more than three days, a student can get a note from a doctor. If the student goes through the Health Center, she will be notified.

The notice will not indicate which type of illness the student has, she said, but regardless, she will contact the appropriate faculty.

“This is an excused absence for students, not permission for them to not do their homework,” Nowak said.

Two students on campus have developed pneumonia, Hofrenning said. “This happens when complications of the flu occur.”

She said this year, the flu vaccine has provided less protection against the virus. It is only about 30 percent effective this year.

“What happened is that the virus mutated. They usually make the vaccine in February before the flu season in the fall, so the flu and the vaccine do not match.

“It does provide some coverage,” she said. Those who received a flu shot should experience milder symptoms if they do come down with the flu.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website, “between the time when the composition of the flu vaccine is recommended and the flu vaccine is delivered, H3N2 viruses are more likely than H1N1 or influenza B viruses to have changed in ways that could impact how well the flu vaccine works.”

The CDC said the flu has a higher risk of causing serious illness or death in older adults, pregnant women, young children and people who have pre-existing medical conditions. The CDC says there are roughly between 9.2 million and 35.6 million illnesses per year due to influenza.

Hofrenning encourages students to get the flu vaccine. The Health Center is no longer providing the vaccine, but it is still available at Walgreens and the local Board of Health. “Technically, FSU students are not residents, but the board understands. Insurance covers it 100 percent because of the Affordable Care Act,” she said.

The vaccine takes about two weeks to be effective, she added.

“We have flu tests in cases where the diagnosis is in question. Just today, I saw a student who did not have a fever, which is one of the cardinal symptoms of the flu. But I was suspicious for the flu and did a test, which was positive.

“For students who are very sick or dehydrated, we send them to the MetroWest Medical Center Emergency Room for evaluation and IV fluids. We continue to see quite a few students per week with the flu,” she said.

Hofrenning said in order to prevent spreading the flu, students should wash their hands often and cover their mouths when they sneeze or cough.

If a student is experiencing the flu, the Health Center will provide a flu kit. This includes a mask, cough drops and a thermometer.

Senior Lily Packer currently has the flu. She said, “It started and just felt like a cold, but got worse really fast. I’ve been sick for about four days, and it doesn’t feel like it’s ending soon. It’s really exhausting and frustrating that there’s nothing I can do but sleep and stay hydrated.”

Nowak said given that this strain of flu is prevalent throughout Massachusetts, she wants the University to do everything in its power to keep students safe.

“I want students to stay healthy.”

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