The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


Flu spreads at SMU

As the first full week of February draws to a close, many students have been busy with the first tests, essays and presentations of the spring semester; others, however, have not even had the strength to climb out of bed.

A recent rise in flu-related symptoms across campus has led to an unusually high number of patients making their way to the Memorial Health Center, according to Co-Medical Director Nancy Merrill.

“I have been [at SMU] for 13 years,” she said, “and I have never seen an outbreak like this.”

Dr. Merrill explained that from Jan. 3 to Feb. 10, 2004, five cases of influenza were recorded at the health center. During the exact same time frame this year, an alarming 57 students have been documented as having the flu virus.

For the amount of patients who have been treated at the health center, however, an unknown number have not yet sought help, though their contagious symptoms continue to spread.

“We’re looking at hundreds of cases,” Dr. Merrill said. “If [students] come down with the flu, they need to come in within 24 hours of the first onset of fever.

“If they come in when they’re finally good enough to get out of bed, it’s too late for medicine.”

The large influx of flu—related cases at SMU is being attributed to last year’s national shortage of influenza vaccines. While the health center traditionally gives out 2,000 flu shots each fall, only 200 doses of Flu Mist – a nasal alternative to the vaccine – were available last semester.

While health officials at SMU are scurrying to treat the growing number of infected patients on campus, physicians all across the metroplex have felt the influenza outbreak as well.

Last week, a press release from the Dallas County Department of Health and Human Services reported 235 confirmed cases of the flu from 16 surveillance sites across the county.

In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site, Texas is one of 16 states nationwide with “widespread” flu activity. “Widespread”, the highest classification given by the CDC when referencing the flu virus, means that reports of influenza (or increases in influenza—like cases in at least half of an area’s reporting areas.

According to Dr. Merrill, the first step in taming the current rash of illnesses is to prevent the disease from spreading to more Mustangs than it already has.

“When a student comes in, we also need to treat their boyfriend or girlfriend or roommate,” she said, “because we can lessen the severity of the outbreak.”

As the situation stands, all faculty members were sent an e—mail from the health center on Feb. 3 to alert them of the problem at hand and how it may influence classroom attendance.

“Illnesses currently affecting the student community include influenza, nausea/vomiting and dehydration,” the e—mail read. “There may be circumstances that would absolutely prevent an individual from attending work or class.”

As the recent upswing in flu cases has left the health center very crowded, triage nurse Charlotte Rohr, R.N., explained how officials have dealt with the heavy volume of sick patients in recent days.

“What we do is see walk-in [students] based on what we can tell symptom—wise,” she said. “The sooner we can treat them, the sooner we can stop the spread.”

Rohr, like Dr. Merrill, suggested prior communication is the best bet for an ill student.

“It is always advantageous if they can call ahead.”

Students feeling a bit under the weather should be on the lookout for two symptoms in particular that are traditional warning signs of influenza, according to Rohr.

“The two classic signs we see are a fever – a significant fever – and a feeling as if somebody has beat them up,” she said, “including general aching and joint pain.”

A piece of good news did emerge, however, when Rohr spoke recently with a Dallas county health nurse, who projected an end to the widespread cases on the horizon.

“She thinks we should see a peak in [the outbreak] no later than next week,” Rohr said.

Health center officials advise all students to keep preventative measures – such as hand washing and the use of hand sanitizers – in mind while trying to corral the spread of the disease.

For more information on the influenza virus or to schedule an appointment with a nurse, contact the Memorial Health Center at (214) 768—2141.

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