Student Health Services Responds to Influenza Outbreak

Director of Colgate’s Student Health Services and University Physician Dr. Merrill Miller addressed the current pervasiveness of the influenza virus, also known as the flu, on Colgate’s campus. She explained that this year’s ‘flu season’ commenced at the end of the first semester, with cases brought to the Health Center as early as December of 2019 adding that this year’s flu prevalence has been more intense than years past. 

“This year, we have had a slightly higher rate of incidence, but so far it seems to be quite clustered over a two to three week period,” Miller said. 

Miller stated that there was a two-day period in which Colgate’s Student Health Services ran out of flu tests. During this period, the student health center had to rely on sending tests to the local hospital. Despite the influx of cases of influenza in the first month of second semester, Dr. Miller is hopeful that the number of diagnoses during this season has already peaked. 

“We hope that this will be a typical year, meaning that the flu rate will start slowing down now. If things start slowing down in these upcoming weeks, we could actually see an overall smaller amount of total cases compared to years past, just on a more condensed timeline, but we really can’t know that for another month or two,” Miller said. 

Miller said she has worked at Colgate for 39 years and is the chief architect of Colgate’s plan to keep all of its students healthy, safe and injury-free. Miller highlighted the importance of getting a flu shot to help combat the virus, even though it does not guarantee immunity. Flu shots should be administered during the Fall semester, preferably in early December.

“With a flu shot, even if someone ends up getting the virus, it is a milder version of it, their temperature is typically not as high and the sickness does not last as long,” Miller said.

Miller stressed that in addition to getting vaccinated, an equally important  countermeasure to the flu is basic sanitary etiquette, such as sneezing and coughing into the crook of one’s elbow and not sharing food or drink.

Miller stated that while the primary job of Colgate’s Health Services is to treat sick students, they also want to accommodate them in every way possible. These accommodations include contacting professors and deans to explain student’s conditions and excuse them from deadlines and work. Health Services also provides “sick passes” to ill students, allowing peers to pick up food for them at various dining locations on campus. The school is also working with Health Services to implement sanitary infrastructure on campus, including hand sanitizing stations and advertising for vaccinations in the clinic. 

Sophomore Aaron Miller, who recently had the flu, said that his first symptoms occurred on Sunday, Feb. 1, with a lot of chest pain and  coughing, and prevailed for a week before he began to recover. 

“​It wasn’t until Tuesday of the next week that I felt 100 percent better and had completely regained my energy. By the weekend I had a lot of catching up to do which  was very stressful. Only some of my professors were understanding and offered extensions, but the others did not care. I think that the health center was adequate in diagnosing the flu, but honestly, with the flu there is no medication that you can take to help fight it, so I honestly wasn’t looking for much when I went—just to be sure I had the flu,” Aaron said. 

Sophomore Charlotte Craig was also diagnosed with the flu by the Health Center in late January. Although she felt ill, Health Services was encouraged that they caught the virus early-on. Charlotte was able to go home for the week in order to recover properly. 

“Although I was worried about going home and missing classes, I do think that getting off campus gave me an opportunity to get proper rest and make a faster recovery. Now that I am healthy, I am thankful that I went to Health Services  immediately when I did not feel well, as I believe my recovery-time was cut shorter since they were able to diagnose me early-on,” Craig said.