Increase of influenza drives need for vaccine

by Beacon Staff • February 27, 2008

The flu virus and symptoms, which are normally in season November through April, have seen a 400 percent increase from 2006 to 2007 in the Boston area according to the Center for Health and Wellness.,Tissues, half empty bottles of Nyquil and a desperate need for mommy are usual side effects of the seasonal illness that sweeps through most colleges called influenza.

The flu virus and symptoms, which are normally in season November through April, have seen a 400 percent increase from 2006 to 2007 in the Boston area according to the Center for Health and Wellness.

"Since the beginning of February, the CHW has seen a 24 precent increase compared to last year at this time in students seeking medical attention for respiratory symptoms," said Jane Powers, the director of the CHW.

Many Emersonians have also noticed the increase in illness throughout campus. While many recalled the sudden swell of sniffling, wheezing and coughing, others noticed the sudden lack of students in classes. According to numerous student reports, absences due to illness have left as many as five or six empty desks in their classrooms.

Freshman TV production major Eli Holmes noticed the number of students out each day.

"Since we came back to school, three of my suitemates have been sick at one time or another, including myself," she said. "It's sort of nerve wracking living on edge trying not to get sick, because there's nothing worse than being sick at college."

The current rise in flu cases may be because of a flu strain that was not included in the formula for the 2007-2008 flu vaccines. The current vaccine does not protect against the prominent virus strand found in recent flu cases, which has caused infection rates to increase. This season's vaccine has been found to be only 40 percent effective in flu protection, as opposed to the normal 75-80 percent according to the CHW. This means that students who have received the flu shot may still be susceptible to influenza.

Despite the questionable protection of the vaccine, the CHW is still holding an immunization clinic today at 216 Tremont St. Powers still finds it necessary to get the vaccine.

"It's especially important because it can still offer protection and help reduce the risk of spreading," she said.

Although Emerson insurance doesn't cover the vaccine, students can make a $15 payment to Student Services if they wish to receive the injection.

Freshman print journalism major Chelsea Graven is happy she got the vaccine.

"I got the shot a couple weeks ago. It was only $15 and some of my friends at other schools had to pay $30, so it's definitely worth it," she said. "There's a possibility that it isn't 100 percent effective, but it still offers me security."

Other students have not been so lucky in avoiding the ailment. While home offers the opportunity to recover with rest and Mom's chicken noodle soup, students far away from such comforts have been forced to recuperate in a dorm room. Freshman marketing communication major Amanda Maltz, from Texas, huddles under her blankets, drinking soup for her recuperation period.

"The Health Center told me not to go to classes and just manage my symptoms by myself. It's frustrating to miss classes," she said. "The flu is horrible, but I'm not looking forward to making up the work I missed."

The CHW has distributed information through e-mail offering remedies and ways to avoid the flu.

Still, Powers said simple tasks can make the biggest difference.

"The best protection is basic hand washing and cough and sneeze etiquette," she said. "It's also important to eat healthy and get sleep, which keeps the immune system intact."

The CHW have advised students with flu-like symptoms to quarantine themselves in their rooms to reduce the risk of viral spreading. The Center prefers for students to visit only under severe symptoms of high fever, aches, fatigue and coughing.

While the recent outbreak has instigated an increase of sickness, sophomore audio major Emily Williams offers her own positive take on the situation.

"At least the coughing and wheezing eliminates the awkward silence in the elevators," she said.