CDC upgrades Tennessee’s influenza status to ‘widespread,’ but campus flu trends convey different narrative


Scarlett Bach

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently upgraded Tennessee’s influenza status to “widespread” across the state, but Vanderbilt’s campus flu activity reveals opposite trends.

According to Louise Hanson, Medical Director of the Zerfoss Student Health Center, campus flu rates are at a seasonal low. As part of a Tennessee Department of Health initiative, the Student Health Center has been tracking influenza activity on campus for the past ten years, with data revealing that spikes most commonly occur during January or February. Typically, Student Health sees 30-50 cases per week during peak flu season, but last January, that number skyrocketed to over 200 cases weekly, Hanson said.

In response to last year’s severe outbreak, increased precautionary efforts to curtail impact can be identified across campus, even in the Panhellenic community. In 2018, they were inordinately affected by the virus due to close contact during formal sorority recruitment, so this year, modifications to traditional procedures were enacted to prevent spread of germs.

For instance, potential new members and sorority women were asked to refrain from physical contact, even as seemingly benign as a handshake, said Panhellenic Council President, Carter Williams. She also said that they stationed hand sanitizer dispensers at every active facility to encourage usage between events.

These measures seem to be paying off. Since the first influenza case of the 2018-2019 school year in September, the Student Health Center has not experienced an influx of flu patients. They are currently seeing roughly 5-7 per week, which remains consistent with usual offseason numbers and is significantly lower than typical averages from this time of year.

Students’ observations also appear to reflect these data.

“I don’t know anyone who has been sick with the flu recently,” said freshman Alexa Nobandegani. “I’ve definitely heard a lot of coughing, but as far as I know, none of my friends have been exposed to the virus.”

Dr. Hanson speculates that this year’s fall in cases could be partially attributed to the better effectiveness of the current flu shot. She nonetheless cautions the Vanderbilt community to remain vigilant and continue preventative measures.

“It is certainly possible that we just haven’t peaked yet and will still experience normal virus activity, simply on the later end of flu season,” Hanson said.
For more information about the virus and preventative measures, visit the CDC website.