Students returning to the Island for the new semester will want to catch up with their friends, but if they aren’t careful, might end up with the highly contagious respiratory disease — the flu!
According to the Washington Post, a record of a flu epidemic in 46 states including Texas, has been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Zelda Chacon, interim director of the University Health Center said this recent development was concerning not only to her, but to returning Islanders as well.
“It’s a little bit nerve-wracking to know students are coming back to a very high flu season right now,” Chacon said.
Prior to the start of winter break, Chacon said the flu was already spreading among Islanders. Approximately three to five students coming in to the Health Center daily, have tested positive for the flu. There were also students who came in exhibiting symptoms of the flu, but who tested negative. Chacon said with the limited testing at the Health Center it is difficult to pick up every single strain, but she suspected those students also had the flu. She said she expects the same number of students to visit the Health Center in the coming weeks, and possibly even more. This is due to a variety of factors.
Students who suffer from other illnesses including asthma, diabetes, or any type of infection or disorders that affect their immune system have the highest risk of contracting the flu. However, students who live in small communities or athletes who travel in large groups are also potential victims.
“Students are very social, so they tend to congregate in places with each other and so that alone provides a risk factor,” Chacon said.
Aside from surrounding themselves in public places with potential carriers of the flu, Chacon said stress, lack of sleep and diet are the biggest risk factors because they affect the immune system. Students who drink or smoke are also at risk, and if they are diagnosed with the flu, Chacon advises they stop to prevent further delays to their recovery time.
“Overall, college students are very healthy if they follow certain guidelines, but I understand those things can go to the wayside – especially when you have things that are out of your control,” Chacon said. “It’s just about educating yourself.”
Chacon said she strongly advises students who exhibit any symptoms of the flu to come to the Health Center to get checked out, even if they think it’s just a cold. Students who test positive will receive a prescription for Tamiflu. Chacon said this year Tamiflu has released a generic brand which will be cost saving for students. Students will also receive excuses for classes and work once they sign a release of information for the Dean of Students. Once it is confirmed the student tested positive for the flu, all the professors of that student will be notified.
The Health Center advises students with the flu to notify their close contacts they’ve been diagnosed with the flu. Those contacts are then able to come in to the Health Center and receive a prescription for Tamiflu without having to be tested. The only requirement is they must be able to verify they’re a close contact of the student and they must be a current student themselves.
Chacon cautions students that the flu virus does spread through saliva, including sneezing, and once those particles are thrown out of the body, they can travel up to six feet. Chacon advises students who are around someone who is sick to maintain a six-foot distance to avoid catching the flu.
In addition, the Health Center has plenty of masks, disinfectant and other materials on hand that will be readily available once students are seen in the clinic.
Whether you’re displaying symptoms of the flu or already have it, Chacon said the most important thing is to cover your mouth and keeping your hands washed, especially if you’re going to expose yourself in a public area. If you don’t have a tissue, you can use your arm or shirt sleeve to capture most of the viral shedding that’s occurring.
Chacon said the Health Center also works closely with the janitorial staff on campus to ensure everything is properly disinfected.
“All of these efforts are to prevent the flu from spreading to the entire campus,” Chacon said.
According to the Post, the other reason for widespread infection is because this year’s flu shot may not be as effective compared to other years. Nonetheless, Chacon said flu shots are still the most crucial factor to prevent the flu from spreading further. The Health Center offers them to students for 20 dollars, a price Chacon said is cheap compared to retail pharmacies in Corpus Christi.
“Even if you have had the flu and you haven’t had your flu shot, come back and get it because there’s more than one strain of flu circulating out there,” Chacon said. “Our flu shots actually cover four of the most popular strains that are circulating in our community.”
“We’re preparing for the worst and hoping for the best,” Chacon said. “That’s just the way we run the Health Center.”
For more information about the health center, visit http://healthcenter.tamucc.edu/.