Cold and Flu Sneezin’

Vanessa Persico

The usual number of cases of influenza and upper respiratory viruses, but in an unusually short time period, has given the appearance of a dramatically high occurrence of these ailments at Colgate. But Adjunct Professor of the Health Sciences and Director of Student Health Services Merrill Miller said that it is no more of a problem than it typically is this time of year.

In the week following January 28, there were 20 confirmed cases of the flu scattered throughout class years and residences, but there have been few cases since then.

“That’s a small number compared to the number of students who actually had the flu,” Miller said.

Miller added that, in a typical year, that same number of cases is spread out over the period from about November to March. This year, the “flu season” has simply been condensed.

“The flu we had came in a big rush in a short amount of time,” she said. “It started like clockwork.”

Associate Dean of the College for Administrative Advising Alan Glos said that several hundred students have received vaccines against the flu, and Miller confirmed that none of the students who had the flu in late January had gotten those inoculations.

Similarly, upper respiratory viruses such as the common cold, sinusitis, strep throat, pneumonia and bronchitis have sent the campus ringing with coughs and sneezes in the weeks since students returned from break.

Both Miller and Glos emphasized that these viruses, while certainly unpleasant, are not the flu and are not threatening to the normal flow of campus activities.

“We think that [the upper respiratory ailments] will continue, but will be a minor annoyance for students, faculty and staff rather than a major health problem,” Miller said.

Contrary to some rumors that had been circulating, neither Health Services nor any of the Deans’ Offices had any intention of taking drastic action as a result of the illnesses.

“It’s not at epidemic proportions,” Miller said. “Nobody was planning on [canceling classes] here.”

The policy for missing classes, as outlined in the Colgate Course Catalogue, is that for absences of one or two days, the student should talk to the particular faculty members whose classes he or she will be missing. For absences of more than three days, however, it is recommended that the student ask his or her administrative advisor to contact the faculty members in question.

Only twice in Miller’s 26-year career at Colgate has the Dean of the College felt it necessary to send a campus alert to the entire faculty because of the number of students who were missing classes due to an illness: once due to an outbreak of influenza, and once due to a gastrointestinal disease.

Glos said that the Deans are still “holding their breath” to see whether there is another sharp increase in flu cases.

“We had a period of time when a lot of students were quite ill,” Glos said, “But it did not take off exponentially — knock on wood. I don’t think we’re completely past the risky period.”

Factors that continue to make this period in time so “risky” are diverse. In the wintertime, people — especially college students — find themselves rushing indoors to crowded dorms, dining halls and other common spaces to escape the freezing temperatures and snowy weather. Regardless of temperature, though, winter is the time when viruses tend to flourish in the northern United States.

Miller commented that it is difficult to persuade Colgate students to stay in and tend to their health rather than go to classes and other activities where they will both stress their own immune systems and possibly transmit their germs to others.

“We have a variety of Type A personalities who want to be out there, who don’t want to miss these things,” she said.

For prevention, Miller recommended staying physically active, taking a daily multivitamin with minerals, drinking plenty of fluids, washing hands or using waterless hand sanitizer regularly, using disinfectant wipes for shared surfaces, observing “cough and sneeze etiquette” and making sure to get enough sleep.