Three days ago, junior mechanical engineering student Joey Kirby felt terrible.
He couldn’t get up in the morning and felt weak and feverish. His friends said he didn’t need to go to the University Health Center, but Kirby knew others who had gotten sick and missed classes recently, so he scheduled an appointment for Wednesday. At the appointment, Kirby discovered that he had the flu.
“[The doctors] said that most people forget [vaccinate] and that it’s early flu season,” Kirby said. “So we’re seeing a lot of people who have the flu.”
Flu cases at the University of Maryland are on the rise. There have been 79 positive tests for the flu since the start of the fall semester of 2022, the health center said in a statement.
Behavioral changes such as wearing face masks, social distancing, and not traveling to avoid COVID-19 have helped keep flu cases to a minimum over the past two years.
But these measures have been relaxed this year and may have contributed to the rise in cases, the health center said. Lower flu vaccination rates and reduced population immunity to masking and lack of exposure could also be to blame.
Experts say this season will also bring a “tripledemia”: Along with the flu, cases of COVID-19 and respiratory syncytial virus, a common type of respiratory infection, are also high.
According to Dr. Kate McPhaul, a research associate professor in the school of public health, this is the worst flu season seen in recent years.
“Flu season is not only coming early, but it’s off to a pretty fast start,” McPhaul said. “The concern that because we haven’t seen it in two years, maybe people are getting slightly more serious versions.”
McPhaul explained that experts knew what to expect this year because the southern hemisphere has its flu season earlier than the northern hemisphere.
The school of public health is also conducting studies focused on ventilation, an aspect of disease transmission highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Infectious disease experts typically focus on vaccines, but while waiting for the COVID-19 vaccine to be developed, the community focused on cleaning the air in crowded indoor spaces, McPhaul said.
“We should pay more attention to indoor air,” McPhaul said. “The University of Maryland is at the forefront of looking at ventilation as a solution or preventative strategy for the flu.”
One study is looking at where students get sick most often on campus, McPhaul said.
Students with flu symptoms who come to the health center fill out a questionnaire asking where they have been in the last 24 hours, which probably includes where they caught it. Then, with the collaboration of the engineering school, that data is mapped to determine if there is a connection between the ventilation of buildings and the places where people get the flu most often.
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In upcoming studies, a group of researchers, including researchers from the University of Maryland School of Medicine and School of Public Health, will conduct experiments to assess how much ventilation affects flu transmission and whether ultraviolet light can prevent the transmission of airborne infections such as COVID-19. 19, the flu and RSV.
McPhaul emphasized that the same methods used to prevent COVID-19 can also be used for the flu, including vaccinations, masks and air purifiers.
“It’s going to help prevent superspreader-type events and more people getting infected, like what happens on college campuses,” he said.
Many people went to the health center on Wednesday to get a flu shot, including first-year economics student Helen Chen.
“I have been around a lot of people who are sick… My boyfriend was sick for three weeks and he is still sick,” Chen said. “[The doctors] He told me to take a picture just to make sure, and I was already here, so I took one.”
Samantha Reyes-Putman, a freshman in early childhood education and early childhood special education, also got a flu shot Wednesday.
“Everyone is getting sick…my friends have gotten sick,” Reyes-Putman said. “I have always had [the flu shot] in the past…and I just want to be safe this year.”