Bowdoin has already seen some effects of the influenza epidemic, characterized by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as moderately severe this year. According to Director of Health Services Dr. Jeffrey Maher, the bulk of the cases will present in the coming months. Health Services, Dining Services and the Office of Student Affairs are hoping to prevent cases when possible and support ill students.
“The flu sort of blossoms after the holidays,” Maher said. “We have campus-wide flu every winter and so we have to be prepared. Colleges like Bowdoin that draw from national and international crowds are difficult. Students who have different immunities show up and live in close quarters, which creates an interesting landscape for influenza.”
To combat the spread of the virus, the College administers flu shots to students for free. This year, the Health Center bought 600 flu shots and has administered 560 so far. Sixty students have received shots since the start of the new semester.
“We get great support from the College to buy flu vaccines and administer them without charge,” Maher said.
With only 40 left, Maher noted a potential shortage.
“We will probably order more but they don’t come overnight,” he said.
Maher recommends that students who express common flu symptoms—such as a fever, chills, nausea and coughing—should isolate themselves and not attend class or extracurricular activities. Although students may not want to miss class, Maher said that most people affected by influenza only experience symptoms for five to seven days, so students should only miss one or two of sessions of each class. Students who are concerned about their academics as a result of an illness can consult with their dean.
“We work with the dean’s office to try and help the student,” Maher said.
To prevent the spread of the virus, Dining Services offers boxed meals for sick students. In an email to the Orient, Associate Director of Operations Michele Gaillard explained that once Dining receives notification of a student with influenza, a friend may pick up a boxed lunch for that student from any dining hall. In the event that a friend cannot take the sick student their meal, Dining Services will deliver.
The influenza outbreak is worse than in past years due to the virus’s ability to change composition.
“Every year the flu shuffles its parts. This year it shuffled in a way that the usual innate ability to fight the flu isn’t around,” Maher said. “That’s what makes the flu so interesting and so hard to convince people to get the flu shot. It does change due to the shuffling. We have to make a new shot every year. This year’s shot is active against the four most common types of flu. This year’s is not one of those, so it will only be partially effective towards the flu.”
Still, Maher said that any protection against the flu is better than no protection, so he recommends all students get vaccinated.
In addition to the vaccine, Maher advises good habits to help prevent the onset of influenza. Students should avoid contact with those affected, cover their mouths and noses when coughing or sneezing, wash their hands frequently with soap and water and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs.
Given the prevalence of influenza this year, there is little doubt that Bowdoin will continue to be affected.