Flu season in full swing at the College

The flu has afflicted many College students lately, but according to Janice Vermeychuk, director of Health Services, this year’s flu season is not as bad as previous years.

“Last year was a horrible year for the flu – we had 300 students in here with it,” Vermeychuk said.

This year’s count hasn’t reached those proportions yet, but the College’s flu season stretches until the start of Spring Break.

“Spring Break tends to flush it out,” Barbara Clark, an adult Nurse Practitioner with Health Services, said.

Tina Tan, the state epidemiologist for the Department of Health, said in a phone interview this season has not been “a more serious season compared to previous years. We’ll have a better sense at the end of the season.”

“All of the strains (of the flu) in the reported cases have been a match with the vaccine so far,” she added.

A far greater number than those with the actual flu is the number of students with an influenza-like illness (ILI). ILI cases are defined by a fever greater than 100 degrees and a cough or sore throat. Anyone with symptoms like these should go to Health Services immediately.

“Treat ILI like it’s the flu,” Vermeychuk said.

According to both Vermeychuk and Clark, the best way to combat the flu is to get the flu vaccine. Health Services offered four clinics in the fall semester to get the vaccine. It was $20 and the fee was waived if the student had College medical insurance.

Health Services will continue to offer flu shots by appointment through Spring Break.

As of press time, fewer than 1,000 members of the College community had received the vaccine.

“Two things I want to stress to students: You can’t get the flu from the flu shot or the nasal,” Clark said, “and if you’ve never gotten the flu shot before, this is different. This is communal living. You’re much more likely to get it here. It’s time to look at things differently.”

Health Services is also involved in the U.S. Influenza Sentinel Provider Surveillance Network in order to further improve the flu situation on campus.

Every week, Clark, who is in charge of the program, sends data on how many total students are seen with ILI and she asks approximately two students a week to participate in another flu test to send to the program.

The goal of the program is to collect data to better next season’s flu vaccine.

“It doesn’t help us in treating our patients, but it helps for next year’s flu vaccine,” Clark said.

Of the 26 students polled, about half had friends who had ILI and only three had the flu themselves. Two even had classes canceled due to their professors having the flu.

“I got a flu shot, so I’ll be pissed if I get the flu,” Caroline Bachmann, sophomore English major, said. “I haven’t gotten the flu in years.”

February is the peak of flu season at the College, so Vermeychuk had some advice for students to avoid getting the flu:

“Wash your hands, stay away from sick people, make sure you get your rest and eat well. Washing your hands is really important because the flu stays alive for a long time on surfaces. Just make sure your immune system is at its best.”

She added, “When you don’t feel well, take care of yourself. You can’t do everything that you can do when you’re fine when you’re ill. If you do have a friend that has the flu, keep an eye on them.”

Caroline Russomanno can be reached at russoma4@tcnj.edu.