Maddie Goldstein ’16
During winter break the flu took the nation by storm, but it seems to have spared the Smith College campus. This flu season was one of the worst yet, with thousands of flu victims documented in only the first month. Only a few students have been sent to Health Services for flu-related symptoms at Smith.
As the spring semester began, the recent flood of flu-related deaths in the state prompted anxiety among students. Despite these concerns, however, Health Services remained skeptical of the possibility of an epidemic outbreak at Smith.
About three weeks ago the mayor of Boston declared the city in a state of public health emergency because of the flu. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s website, there have been 45 flu-related deaths reported in the US.
In order for a flu outbreak to be considered an “epidemic,” it has to meet certain criteria set by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. There are a total of 10 different criteria, which can fit into three general categories: properties of the virus, attributes of the population and ecology and epidemiology. While this particular flu has achieved one of those criteria – in the number of flu related deaths – it has not reached an epidemic level in Northampton.
“Fortunately, flu is not widespread on campus at this time,” said Health Services Director Leslie Jaffe. “Few students have come to Health Services with flu-like symptoms. While [the] flu remains widespread in the US, it may have peaked in some areas.”
Health Services has not been as busy as expected despite the flu hype. At the beginning of the semester, only 450 flu shots were ordered. As of now, there are still 40 doses left. This does not mean, however, an outbreak will not ensue.
Although most students have been able to avoid the flu, there is still a chance it will reach Smith. “The flu ‘season’ may last another 8 weeks,” said Jaffe. “We may yet see an increase in flu on campus.”
In case the flu does reach Smith, Health Services has planned accordingly. “In the event there is a flu ‘outbreak’ on campus, Health Services will have ill students wear masks in our waiting room and Residence Life will consider alternate housing for sick or well roommates,” said Jaffe.
An issue some students have with this flu season is the culture at Smith and what that could mean if the flu does reach the campus.
“A lot of people around here will just shrug off illnesses,” said Jess Gibson ’13. “They don’t think about how easily coughs can spread, and it may not be a big deal for [them], but it could knock someone else out. People need to be more conscious of how it affects others.”
Despite the lack of flu victims at Smith, students are not unaware of the danger.
“I’m not particularly worried about catching the flu, but I’m not under the impression that Smith is flu free,” said Rachel McGoldrick ’16. “It’s a lot of people in a small space.”
To keep the flu off campus, students should be aware of their health and take necessary steps to protect it.
“Students should make use of the hand sanitizers available on campus,” said Jaffe. “Ill students with coughs should protect others by covering their coughs (by bending their arms and coughing into the front/crease of their elbows) and not going to classes if clearly ill with the flu (fever and cough).”