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Drastic flu season contributes to 20 percent increase in STINFs

The current flu season has been devastating, causing near-record numbers of hospitalizations across the U.S. and leaving scores of Duke students bedridden.

Consequently, both Student Health and DuWell have been working around the clock to help students who have contracted the disease and prevent it from spreading even more.

This year’s flu may be as widespread as it was in 2009 with the deadly H1N1 swine flu, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention press briefing Feb. 9. At Duke, there has been a significant increase in Short-Term Illness Notification Forms (STINFs) relative to last year. Academic Dean Jenny Wood Crowley wrote in an email that as of Feb. 7, there have been 3,234 STINFs submitted since the start of spring semester, compared to 2,699 at that time last year.

John Vaughn, director of Student Health Services, said that though this flu season is worse than it has been in years, there are some caveats.

“You're more likely to get the flu because the virus is going around and the vaccine wasn't as effective this year,” he said. “But if you do get the flu, the strains that are going around this year are not inherently more likely to make you more sick.” 

In particular, this year’s predominant flu strain—H3N2—spreads rapidly, but will not make the average person as sick as other strains will. Nevertheless, its spread warranted Vaughn to recommend closing Krzyzewskiville to Larry Moneta, vice president for student affairs, who gave all tenters a grace period from Jan. 31 to Feb. 9. 

Thomas Szigethy, director of DuWell, said he was pleased with the extended grace.

“Students in [K-Ville] for weeks get run down primarily due to the lack of a regular sleep schedule, which them makes them even more susceptible to illness. Add to this the fact that there is such close proximity and you can see how easily the flu can spread in those circumstances,” he wrote in an email. “The students I spoke with were appreciative to be able to get some solid sleep hours in their own bed.” 

Vaughn expressed the same sentiment as Szigethy, and promised to work with his team to come up with a policy or procedure for K-Ville in the event of another bad flu season.

Beyond K-Ville, Vaughn and the rest of Student Health have been striving to treat as many students as they can. They gave 307 flu shots during one flu clinic Feb. 2. In addition, Vaughn has adjusted certain protocols to accommodate for increased traffic. For example, students can receive a flu shot without an appointment, and nurses are allowed to administer flu tests to students even before they see a medical provider. 

DuWell has also been marketing Student Health’s flu clinics, as well as promoting general wellness and working with DSG to distribute wellness boxes to the tenters in K-Ville. The wellness boxes—with items such as stress balls, thermometers and sleep kits—are designed to remind tenters to get a proper night’s sleep, destress and take care of themselves, Szigethy noted. 

So what are the best strategies for students trying to avoid the flu the rest of this flu season?  Stick to the basics, wrote Szigethy. 

“Get enough sleep, eat healthy meals—these will keep the immune system strong," he said.
"Pushing yourself to the extreme stresses the system and leaves you more likely to get sick so pay attention to your body. Washing hands thoroughly and often helps to reduce the spread of germs as well.”

If you do contract the flu, the flu clinic page on the Student Health website recommends simply resting, drinking lots of fluids and taking an over-the-counter cold remedy. 

Jake Satisky | Editor-in-Chief

Jake Satisky is a Trinity senior and the digital strategy director for Volume 116. He was the Editor-in-Chief for Volume 115 of The Chronicle. 


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