Flu season hits Davidson early, academics and school facilities adjust accordingly

Jonathan Lee-

An abnormally high percentage of classroom desks have sat unoccupied in recent weeks as students suffering from this year’s influenza outbreak have been confined to their rooms, quarantined to prevent the virus from spreading. Though other ailments have simultaneously infiltrated campus, the student body’s sense of subdued panic has centered on the flu.

“We’re panicking, popping NyQuil, praying we’re not gonna be the next to drop,” Elliot Lannon ’20 remarked.

As of February 8th, the Student Health Center has tested nearly 200 students for the flu. Sixty-four have tested positive. Student Health Center Assistant Director Jan Poole explained that the timing of the flu outbreak, rather than the number of cases, is what makes this year unusual.

“I don’t think it’s worse than normal, it’s just earlier than normal. For the past 4-5 years, we’ve had our heavy flu season after spring break, sometimes all the way into late spring,” she clarified. Poole is hopeful that with the large number of cases already this year, the flu “won’t be as bad after spring break.”

“Typically, influenza can last for five to six days, but a person that has the flu can be contagious one to two days before they start exhibiting symptoms, and stay contagious throughout the time they have a fever,” added Poole.

There are two types: Flu A and Flu B. “Flu B symptoms are usually milder than Flu A symptoms,” she explained. “We are predominately seeing Influenza A. Right now, we’ve only had one case of Flu B here this season.”

Poole cautioned that college students are particularly susceptible to the flu because “in a classroom and dormitory setting, it goes like wildfire.”

This semester, the Student Health Center has had its hands full with a campus wide outbreak of the flu. Photo by Erin Gross

To combat the virus, the Health Center restricts students who test positive from “going to classes or any group settings until they have been free from fever for 24 hours without the use of fever reducing medication. No Vail Commons, no library, and if they go out to a common bathroom, we ask them to wear a mask.” The clinic gives flu sufferers a kit filled with “instructions, a couple of masks, and eight disposable thermometers.”

Flu-stricken students must rely on friends for any needs outside their rooms, including food.

Mandy Holt ’18, who came down with the flu just as she was recovering from mono, said that without friends, “being at school with the flu would be impossible; you literally couldn’t get food without getting people sick.”

Hannah Maltzan ’20, another flu victim, described how sometimes “my friends would bring me food and leave it at my door,” and other times “I would stand in the doorway and they’d stand in the hallway and we’d talk.”

Student-athletes must be especially aware of flu symptoms. A flu outbreak within a team could have a disastrous effect on a game or competition. Swimmer Brian Hynes ’20, who had the flu recently, went to the Health Center as soon as he started feeling unwell. “I didn’t want to get my teammates sick,” he said. Though the coaches do monitor their athletes, “they trust you to take care of yourself,” explained Hynes.

Some students downplay the bad parts of having the flu and emphasize the much-needed downtime. According to Hynes, “It actually wasn’t too bad; I just watched a bunch of ESPN documentaries and played a bunch of Xbox.”

Maltzan said, “It’s not bad at all; I slept the majority of the 48 hours that I had it, and I got hooked on a new TV show.”

However, this was not the case for everyone. Holt felt so bad that she decided to go back to her home in Burlington, North Carolina, to better recover. Depending on a variety of factors, the flu can range from mild to severe among different people.

Flu sufferers agreed that although it is difficult to miss class, professors are extremely accommodating. Holt explained, “All my teachers were really great. When I emailed them and said I have mono and the flu they were like ‘Yikes! Don’t do any work please.’”

Maltzan added, “One of my history professors, Vivien Dietz, was incredible when I emailed her; she’s the one that had the flu, and she was like, ‘Being in a dorm being sick is awful. I know your friends are helping you but if you need anything let me know, and keep me updated.’ It kinda turned into a mother sort of thing, which was so sweet and I really appreciated it.”

Some students have reported gastrointestinal sickness, which is often misinterpreted as a flu symptom. Poole stated that “people throw the word flu around casually when they have a gastrointestinal illness, but influenza is truly an upper respiratory virus. Some people might have a little gastrointestinal distress with [the flu], but it’s not the one where you’re throwing up repeatedly; that’s a gastrointestinal illness.”

Though separate from the flu, gastrointestinal illnesses are still a health risk on campus. Dean Jason Shaffer of the Residence Life Office recently warned the student body via email of a possible norovirus outbreak, a highly contagious disease that can cause vomiting, stomach pains, and a fever.

Ultimately, students must take the initiative to keep themselves healthy. The Student Health Center advises to “practice frequent handwashing or frequent use of hand sanitizers when you are out and about.”

It also recommends “keep[ing] your distance, preferably six feet away, from anyone that’s visibly ill.” This is because “flu viruses are introduced through your mucus membranes,” Poole warned. “Try not to touch your eyes, your nose, or your mouth.” She added, “It is not too late to get the flu shot. That’s the best way to prevent getting the flu.”

More information about preventative measures can be found on the Health Center’s website.