Flu season hits Iowa State

Haley Knudsen

Sniffling, sneezing and coughing are inevitable when flu season rolls around. Students go to class with boxes of tissues and walk around with blankets, all to fight the flu.

College students should be wary of their health because viruses spread easily among close groups of people. Whether it be living in the dorms or going to large lectures, students should take the proper precautions to avoid getting sick.

“We had one, maybe two cases [of the flu] at most in all of November and December, which is very light compared to what we normally see,” said Laura Knowles, nursing and patient services supervisor at the Thielen Student Health Center.

But there have been two confirmed cases of the flu on campus since returning from break and two cases of the norovirus reported, Knowles said.

“It does make us nervous that we have seen two cases within the first two weeks of school,” she said.

This virus is extremely contagious, which is contributing to the rapid spread of the bug.

“If people aren’t washing their hands well between classes, if people aren’t using hand sanitizer during this time of year, it increases everyone’s risk,” Knowles said.

The No. 1 way for everybody to protect themselves from the flu is to get the vaccine. It is important to note that the flu vaccine cannot make you sick with the flu.

Always covering your coughs and sneezes in your elbow, washing your hands and throwing tissues away are easy ways to prevent getting sick. If you are at the gym, wipe down the gym equipment before you begin.

Knowles recommends going out and buying Clorox wipes to kill the bug on surfaces. This is especially important to do for students living in dorms with community bathrooms.

Although it is common for people to confuse the two, the norovirus and flu have distinct symptoms.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the flu has symptoms consistent with fever, coughing and headaches and can last up for two weeks.

Thielen began administering flu shots in August to prevent an outbreak of the flu from going around campus. The flu vaccine protects against the main flu strains but does not protect against all strains. Unfortunately, this means a student can still get sick with the flu even if they have had the vaccine.

Nationwide, 143 million doses of the flu vaccine have been distributed so far, which is better than last year, Knowles said. This could be the reason why the flu has not been as extreme this season.

The flu vaccine will not protect against the norovirus.  

On the other hand, the norovirus causes vomiting, nausea and diarrhea, according to the CDC. A person infected with the virus develops symptoms of the illness within one to two days and usually gets better within one to three days.

The norovirus can cause up to 570 to 800 deaths per year, most commonly seen in high-risk patients like infants or the elderly.

“If someone we have seen has the norovirus, when that person leaves the room, [we] wipe down the surfaces and the table they were sitting on so it kills the norovirus. We keep the waiting rooms wiped down as often as we can,” Knowles said.

If a student is really ill, Knowles said to stay home.

“With influenza, we say 24 hours fever free and you’re probably good to go back,” she said. “With the norovirus, we say 24 hours of no diarrhea.”  

Thielen has registered nurses available to talk to on the phone if a student believes they are sick, or they can schedule an appointment through the health center, which can be reached at any time by calling 515-294-5801. More information on the health center can be found on its website.

Reporting contributed from Emily Hammer.