The Center for Health and Wellness confirmed the first diagnosed case of the flu in an email sent out to all Keene State College students on Feb. 12.
Director of Health and Wellness Christine Burke said because there were confirmed cases of the flu in other states, in October and November, the health center was expecting and preparing for an early arrival.
Burke noted that the months of January, February and March make up the normal flu season.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “Influenza (the flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness.”
Burke explained that sometimes there is confusion among the general public about whether or not they have the flu or another illness.
“People use the term flu all the time. People associate things like the gastrointestinal, the norovirus, the stuff that makes you vomit and have diarrhea as the flu and that’s not the flu at all,” Burke said.
The stomach flu, Burke explained, is a completely different virus than the seasonal flu. The stomach flu is an intestinal virus that can spread very quickly and involves extreme vomiting and diarrhea.
Burke said “The flu is something that comes on really fast. One minute, you’re feeling great, the next minute you feel like you’ve been hit by a bus. Usually, it has a fever, a sudden onset and pretty high like 101 or 102 fever, headache, body ache, like your entire body hurts—and it does usually have a cough that goes with it, but it’s different than the cough you get when you have a cold.”
Burke continued and said often people are confused by their symptoms. She added, “When you have it [the flu] you will never forget what it feels like.”
For students who are experiencing flu-like symptoms, Burke and Anne Nolan, an infection preventionist for Cheshire Medical Center, agree that going out seeking medical attention, like your primary care physician, is not the best course of action. Both agreed that this course of medical attention should only be taken in certain cases.
“Coming in [to the health center or physician’s office] is a way to spread [the virus], and the truth of the matter is, [students] don’t really need medical care, but they do need to pay attention. I don’t want to minimize it, but for most people who get it there is nothing that we’re going to do because it has to run its course,” Burke said.
Nolan said, for members of the Keene community, coming into the hospital to get tested for the flu is not the best decision either.
“Testing is really expensive, and for most healthy individuals, there’s really not treatment for the flu, you just take Tylenol, drink fluids, get plenty of rest, that kind of thing. So, you don’t need to have an expensive test to confirm that you have the flu because it’s the same treatment whether it’s a cold or the flu or any other virus,” Nolan explained.
Both Burke and Nolan noted that if an individual is experiencing difficulty breathing or they are diabetic or asthmatic, they should seek medical attention because they are at high risk for developing a more serious illness.
“They’re more likely to have the virus settle in their lungs and develop pneumonia. Most people, the likelihood of that happening to them is very rare, but if it gets to that point they need medical care. It’s not that they are going to treat the flu per se but they are going to treat the symptoms that can develop and can be life threatening,” Burke said.
In October the Center for Health and Wellness sent out emails to the KSC community about flu shot clinics that would be held on campus for a $15 fee that could be charged to student accounts.
Burke said that they administered approximately 300 shots to students. Burke noted that she would like to see more students utilizing this service.
“We’ve gone through the shots we have but it’s a small percentage. It’s not even ten percent of the student population. It’s higher than it used to be, at one point I would only get maybe eighty students who would get the flu vaccine and now we’re getting more than triple that,” Burke stated.
Burke continued, “Ideally all students would get vaccinated. The more students who receive the shot, the less chance they’ll be of spreading it, but there’s a lot of reasons why people choose to not get vaccinated and I respect that. So, it’s an individual’s choice.”
Burke and Nolan both noted that a common myth, stating that the flu shot causes the flu, making the shot controversial, is completely inaccurate.
“The flu shot cannot give you the flu because there’s no live virus in the vaccine. There’s no chance, no way you’re going to get the flu because of the flu shot. Sometimes it takes two or so weeks to build immunity. We’re injecting antibodies and it takes your body about two weeks to respond to those antibodies so if you’re exposed to the flu anytime in those two weeks you’re going to get the flu, but that’s coincidence,” Nolan said.
KSC junior Rachel Perreault was diagnosed with the flu two weeks ago and has finally recovered. She described the illness as “awful.”
“It started with a fever, dizziness, and fatigue for the first half and then turned into a head cold. I was lucky that there was a snowstorm because I had classes canceled for two days. If not for the snow I would be really stressed from being behind,” Perreault said.
Perreault said she had received the flu shot in previous years but opted out this season, ultimately she regretted her decision.
“I didn’t really think about getting the flu shot because it wasn’t made out to be a big deal compared to other years so I didn’t prioritize it. Now I realize that not getting it was irresponsible,” Perreault said.
Many others like Perreault do not prioritize the shot or find it necessary.
Nolan said that even healthy people should get vaccinated not just to protect themselves, but for people around them as well.
“What we’re really hoping for with the flu shot is that you’re going to prevent your classmates and people with whom you work and people with whom you see in the community from getting sick. People who have rheumatoid arthritis and people who have cancer and people who have other chronic illnesses are at great risk of morbidity (a diseased state) and mortality from the flu and the more of us that who get the flu shot decreases chances of them getting the flu. So even if you’re healthy we still want you to get the flu shot to help protect the people with whom you love in your life and others,” Nolan said.
Burke said the end of flu season is near and it should definitely be on the way out by the time spring break rolls around.
Burke urged anyone who is considering getting the shot to do so. The health center is no longer administering flu shots, but students can contact local pharmacies, which still have the shot available, according to Burke.
Rachel Heard can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org