Now is the time of year when students would actually rather be in class than stuck in bed because their fellow students begin to show symptoms of coughing and sniffling during class. Cough, runny nose, and fever all point to the scariest three letter word a student can hear: flu.
“I think students living in this community setting are just prime candidates for the flu,” Director of Health and Wellness Services and Family Nurse Practitioner Diane O’Brien said. They are sharing drinks, sharing cigarettes, sharing towels, sharing everything, and they live in close proximity so they are good targets for the flu.”
Heather Stoner, a sophomore nursing major who works at Passan Hall, said that nursing and pharmacy majors are required to get flu shots because they interact with patients.
“Both majors go into the hospital which puts them at higher risk for contracting the flu,” she said.
O’Brien said that it is a misconception when people believe that they get sick from the flu shot.
“It is not a live virus; people do not get sick from it,” she said. “Sometimes it’s a coincidental thing that they get a cold after but really it will not make you sick unless you have allergies to that particular vaccine. It is in everyone’s best interest to get it.”
Students often confuse the common cold for the flu.
“Everyone thinks when they have a cold they have the flu,” O’Brien said. “The true flu is different than the common cold. You usually have high fever, body aches, you are unable to work or go to school so you could lose a lot of productive time.”
Flu symptoms usually consist of a fever greater than 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit, body aches, dry cough and a possible sore throat.
“It’s whole-body sick, it’s different than a cold,” O’Brien said.
To avoid missing seven to 10 days of school and work, students should cough into their sleeves or tissues, not into their hands, and take advantage of the hand sanitizers placed around campus.
“Last year we were very lucky, we only had a few cases,” O’Brien said. “I think students are very in-tuned to the hand sanitizers around campus. It makes a huge difference. We put those in around 2009 when the H1N1 scare was (prominent). They’ve made a tremendous difference.”
She said the most common advice for avoiding germs still rings true; “Washing your hands is first and foremost. If you’re sick or see someone who is sick, you should try to avoid being in other peoples company.”
Students who believe they have the flu can go to Passan Hall and get tested with a nasal swab, which is similar to a tiny, long cotton swab that is inserted in the nose then sent out to get tested. Passan will get it back the same day and if it’s positive and the student has only had the symptoms for less than 48 hours, they can prescribe Tamiflu.
The flu is not caused by bacteria so antibiotics will not do anything to help. The flu is caused by a virus, and Tamiflu since is antiviral, it can and will shorten the course of flu to four or five days instead of seven to 10 days.
Depending on the student’s insurance, Tamiflu can cost anywhere from $35 to $75. If the student has had the symptoms for more than 48 hours and it is not to their benefit to get the Tamiflu, there are other options.
“We can give stuff to lessen the fever and lessen the cough,” O’Brien said, “but the bottom line is you need to rest, drink fluids and just take care of yourself.”
To avoid the flu all together, students need not to make an appointment to get their $20 flu shot anytime between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday at Passan. The The Wilkes-Barre Department of Health is offering free flu shots to residents of the city at the Kirby Health Center on Franklin Street Students should bring proof of residency to get their free flu shot there.
O’Brien said that flu season generally runs from November to late January or February, so students should get their flu shots in late September or October so they can develop antibodies for flu season.
“It takes a few weeks to develop immunity then you’re good for that whole flu season,” she said.