During the past few days, Vanderbilt students have experienced an increased number of flu cases. According to Dr. Louise Hanson, Medical Director of the Zerfoss Student Health Center, the center saw between 50 to 75 cases Monday, 75 to 100 on Tuesday and over 100 cases on Wednesday. Before break and last week, the center had been seeing 10 to 15 cases per week.
While Dr. Hanson noted that the flu is ravaging much of the U.S.–especially the Southeast–a spike in flu cases during this time of year is not all that unusual. Several factors contribute to this year’s surge on campus, including a relatively inefficient vaccine and the coincidence of flu season with Panhellenic formal recruitment.
“The flu vaccine is thought to be less effective than usual, which is probably contributing,” Hanson said. “Unfortunately, our big flu spike is usually seen in late January or early February and doesn’t usually coincide with recruitment in sororities. So it’s the “perfect storm”–less than perfect vaccine, lots of exposures and an earlier flu spike than usual.”
Most of the cases diagnosed at student health have been in either Panhellenic women or in potential new members of Panhellenic organizations, Hanson said. She speculates that this is because Panhellenic formal recruitment, which began last weekend and will continue this weekend, brings approximately 150 women into each house during each party and creates a breeding ground for the virus.
Hanson recommends frequent hand washing and avoiding contact with those infected with the flu. Healthy adults are contagious beginning one day before symptoms develop until five to seven days after they become sick, Hanson said.
“People with flu can spread the virus to others up to about six feet away,” she said. “Most experts think that flu viruses are spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Less often, a person might also get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth or nose.”
Students who are experiencing fever, aches, cough or other flu-like symptoms, can either call Student Health and make an appointment or walk in if all appointment slots are filled. Tamiflu, an antiviral drug used to treat the flu, is available by prescription. If taken within 48 hours of the emergence of symptoms, Tamiflu can reduce the duration and severity of flu symptoms as well as prevent the spread of the flu.
Tamiflu may also be prescribed to students who have had close contact with someone who has the flu in order to prevent them from contracting the virus. Students who wish to obtain a preventative prescription should contact their Student Health provider through the My Health at Vanderbilt portal. If a student doesn’t have a regular provider, they can call the Student Health Center or walk in to receive the medication.
Many students who have tried to obtain Tamiflu from local pharmacies such as CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid have been met with disappointment as the pharmacies, met with a sudden increase in demand, have run out of the drug. However, the medicine is still available at the Student Health Center for approximately $140 without insurance. Most insurance providers will cover a large portion of the cost of the drug.
For more information about flu prevention, visit https://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/preventing.htm.