The Colonial Health Center reports an influx of students testing positive for flu virus, offers tips on prevention.
By Briahnna Brown
This year’s flu season has been hitting the United States at full force, and George Washington University is no exception.
Isabel Goldenberg, the director of medical services at the Colonial Health Center, said that the center is seeing double the number of flu cases it has seen in other years.
“This year we are a little bit alarmed because we have had a large number of cases of the flu,” Dr. Goldenberg said. “Since the students came back last week, we have seen several cases.”
In Washington, D.C., flu activity saw a sharp increase in the beginning of the year, with 382 new cases reported in the first two weeks, according to the D.C. Department of Health. As of Jan. 13, there were 624 positive flu cases reported in the District this flu season, which began in October and is expected to end in May.
Lone Simonsen, a research director and professor of global health at the Milken Institute School of Public Health and co-director of the SPH Global Health Epidemiology Program, said that this year’s flu season is moderately severe, and it’s too soon to determine the fatality of the season as that data has not yet been reported.
“We do not know yet if this H3N2-dominated season will be more severe than previous flu seasons,” Dr. Simonsen said. “Rather, the severity indicators in the CDC’s surveillance system suggest the current season is early and widespread but with a similar trajectory of hospitalizations as the 2014-15 H3N2 season.” H3N2 is a virus subtype of Influenza A, the most commonly occurring strain this flu season.
Dr. Goldenberg recommends students experiencing flu symptoms call the health center for phone consultation as soon as possible. Those symptoms include a high fever of over 101 degrees, body aches, a dry cough, a sore throat and general weakness and are more severe than with a common cold. In the phone consultation, the health center will get your medical history and determine whether you need to come in for further tests. Often, Dr. Goldenberg said, they are able to make a determination over the telephone. The phone consultation prevents sick students from coming into the center when they are experiencing flu symptoms and potentially infecting other students.
"The sooner that you can take care of the problem, the sooner you will be taking care of your body,” Dr. Goldenberg said. “You'll also be taking care of the community by not disseminating the disease."
Tips to avoid catching or spreading a flu virus
- Get the flu vaccine. The best thing to protect yourself from the flu is the flu shot, Dr. Goldenberg said, and for students who are still healthy, it’s not too late. The Colonial Health Center has a limited number of vaccines available, and it’s covered under the Student Health Insurance Plan. On Thursday, the health center gave 190 vaccines during a flu clinic, Dr. Goldenberg said. For students with other insurance coverage, Dr. Goldenberg recommends that they visit their doctor’s office or the pharmacy where they normally pick up prescriptions, as it will often be covered. For uninsured students, the flu vaccine is $25 from the Colonial Health Center.
- Keep your immune system healthy. Sleeping and eating well are key to keeping a healthy immune system, Dr. Goldenberg said, as well as avoiding alcohol consumption. If you have a chronic medical condition, such as asthma, could be at a higher risk of complications from the flu, Dr. Goldenberg said.
- Stock up on basic medical supplies and over-the-counter medications. Dr. Goldenberg recommends taking your own temperature with a thermometer as soon as you experience any flu symptoms, such as body aches or general malaise. Having a thermometer on hand will be useful in determining your level of illness, Dr. Goldenberg said, and getting Tylenol or Advil and symptomatic medicines before you can spread the virus will prevent you from having to walk to the pharmacy while you have the flu. The health center can even order any necessary prescriptions for you after a phone consultation. If you do catch the flu and need medical supplies, it’s better to have a friend or roommate get them for you, Dr. Goldenberg said.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Dr. Goldenberg recommends immediately disposing of any tissue you cough or sneeze into. If you don’t have a tissue, Dr. Goldenberg said, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve, and avoid coughing or sneezing into your hands.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water. When you’re not able to wash your hands, Dr. Goldenberg said, use the hand sanitizer the university provides in high-traffic areas such as the Marvin Center, Gelman Library and residence halls. You should also carry a small bottle of alcohol-based hand sanitizer in your personal bag to help keep your hands clean and prevent the spread of germs, Dr. Goldenberg added.
- Avoid close contact with people who have flu symptoms. “Social distancing,” as Dr. Goldenberg calls it, is especially important during flu season. While moving out of your living environment is not recommended as it can actually spread the flu, students living in residence halls should make an effort to keep some distance from people who have flu symptoms.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces others have come in contact with. Being cautious of what surfaces you touch is a necessary tactic in avoiding the flu. In high-traffic areas like the library, Dr. Goldenberg said, wipe down surfaces like computer mice if you can, and use hand sanitizer after touching those surfaces when possible. The CDC also recommends sanitizing surfaces in your living areas, such as doors, toilets and sink handles.
If you have the flu, the Colonial Health Center recommends drinking fluids to stay hydrated and using over-the-counter medications to help relieve some flu symptoms. Students should contact professors and make arrangements if they cannot attend classes, and stay home for at least 24 hours after their fever is gone. You can reach the health center 24/7 by phone at 202-994-5300 to speak to a clinician or health counselor.