College campuses are bracing for flu outbreaks that have already resulted in higher than normal infection rates for the general population in 47 states.
Already Wisconsin has more than double the number of flu cases reported last year. The surge in sickness has come earlier than normal. For college students, this meant many were at home for the holiday when the virus started spreading. Now that they're returning, college health officials are working to contain the flu. Craig Roberts is an epidemiologist with University Health Services on the Madison campus, and says they “are doing a couple things differently this year. One thing is to make an effort to communicate with students while they're still home, to get a flu shot before they return to campus if they haven't already done so before they left campus in fall. We're also adding additional capacity for flu shots when they return, including some walk-in hours next week. We usually don't do that.”
Usually, the Madison campus gives flu shots only in the fall. Roberts urges vaccination in order to help ward off the flu, but if students get it, he has this advice: “If you get sick, you should be staying home. You should not be going to class or work. You should not be going to social activities. Stay home, get better and help reduce the spread and risk of transmission to others.”
Roberts says the campus health service has had only 7 confirmed cases by the end of December...but he expects that number will increase over time. Roberts says they could end up having as many cases as they did during the swine flu epidemic three years ago.