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News

University, city enters into flu season

Over 6,000 free vaccinations were administered exclusively for students during the first flu blitz, University Health Services (UHS) director Edward Junkins told The Observer. Faculty, staff and dependents are eligible to make appointments for the second blitz.

The UHS orchestrated its annual flu vaccine blitz in the Stepan Center on Sept. 20 and Sept. 21. The secondary blitz takes place this week on Oct. 11 and Oct. 12.

Junkins supplied the rationale: influenza is a highly communicable infectious disease that consistently causes morbidity. 

Influenza, Junkins said, is an illness that can quickly overwhelm the resources the University has in place in the event of a widespread outbreak.

“[Morbidity] means loss of time from work, significant symptoms, so body aches, high fever, dehydration and putting people at risk who have chronic illness,” he said.

Though Notre Dame has a primary care clinic located on campus in Saint Liam Hall that takes care of urgent needs, Junkins said that the University does not have the resources to take care of hundreds of students.

“Even though we have a high vaccination rate, we still get breakthrough infections and that very quickly overwhelms our clinic, our pharmacy,” he said.

In agreement with Junkins, St. Joseph County Deputy Health Officer Mark Fox said he thinks Notre Dame’s flu blitzes are advantageous to the community because of the congregate living on campus.

“It is obviously important for the campus community because there is a lot of congregate living,” Fox said. “So, the risk of spreading any respiratory illness is significant. So, any opportunity to reduce that is beneficial.”

Aside from the congregate living, Fox said he regards Notre Dame to be a well-protected, heavily vaccinated community. Fox underscored the blitz’s effect on South Bend.

“And while much of the campus lives in congregate living settings, you know, it’s not a closed campus,” he added. “There’s a lot of interaction with Notre Dame students, faculty and staff out in the community, or volunteering or going to Martin’s or going to Finnies or wherever.”

The COVID pandemic’s third flu season beginning this fall, Fox pointed out the growing importance of flu vaccinations in 2022 than in direct years past.

“Over the last couple of years in general, the flu rates have been lower because there were a lot of COVID mitigation strategies in place and people who were sick were likely staying home or staying in their dorm,” he said.

Fox predicts that flu cases will increase now that pandemic era practices have gone away.

“Now that most of the community is following virtually no mitigation strategies, I expect that this will be probably a more normal flu season,” Fox said.

With these risks, last year saw over 90% student compliance with the flu vaccine mandate, Junkins said. The 6600 student-dedicated appointments at the first blitz were all taken.

“Shots in arms,” he said. “We still have about another 5000 or so students who still need to meet the requirement. I would predict about 3000 of those students will come back through during this next Blitz.”

Some students will get the vaccination over fall break but the University said they plan to set it up so that students can receive their vaccine for free before they travel home and back, Junkins said.

“Of course,” Junkins said, “[the flu vaccine] is required in order to be able to register for the spring semester.”

Contact Peter Breen at pbreen2@nd.edu

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Viewpoint

The freshmen flu: A story of sniffles

The temperature is dropping. The leaves are changing colors. The flannel and gray sweatpants combo have arrived. It is sweater weather if you will. As of Sept. 22, at 9:04 p.m. EDT, fall has arrived in the Northern Hemisphere and at Notre Dame too. You might be tempted to think that the most important development of late is that you can wear cute “autumn-themed” clothes or that it is finally socially acceptable to indulge in pumpkin-spice beverages. But I draw your attention to the elephant in the room, an elephant which we room-dwellers neglect to acknowledge. With the arrival of sweaters and lattes comes the notorious “freshmen flu,” a ubiquitous ailment of varying severity that targets especially first-years but has been observed to affect others.

The “flu,” if it can even be aptly compared to influenza, begins with a sore, scratchy throat that progresses into a dry cough. Once the dry cough settles in, the other symptoms appear like sinus congestion and fatigue. The characteristic mucous-filled cough is the final and most prominent symptom. Such is the common illness progression that I and most likely you endured. Some experience a minor degree of these symptoms, while other more unfortunate others suffer worse. 

Take care not to turn the blind eye to the things you witness every day in class. You see the few extra empty chairs in the back of class. You notice the tissues and cough drops competing for pocket space with your phone and wallet. You hear the not–so silent silence of exam rooms. Sniffles. Sneezes. Hacks. Throat–clearings — whatever noise that makes. It is obvious that the “freshmen flu” plagues the students of Notre Dame. 

How then are we students to stop the spread of so widespread a disease? I offer a few hypothetical solutions. Be absent from class and recover in your dorm. In theory, this sounds perfectly reasonable. Except, you would sacrificing valuable class and studying time amid exam season, a dubious wager that has direct effect on sometimes 25% of your semester grade. Cross that one out. Purchase medicine from the Huddle Mart conveniently placed in LaFortune. The only issue is that the desired cold/flu medicines are often out-of-stock, snatched up by the other infirmed. And if you are fortunate enough to get your hands on meager sized bottle of Dayquil, the Huddle Mart happily receives a generous $12.99 increase in revenue in exchange for your health. I am still cross about that transaction. Forget it. 

On top of these logistical impracticalities, I have noticed a few subtle stigmas with respect to the “freshmen flu.” In class, it seems almost undignified to cough or sniffle too loudly as it might draw unwarranted attention or disapproval. And no, suppressing your cough to a barely audible volume does not mean that your neighbor did not hear it, even if they did not look up. There is an overbearing silence in common study areas like Remick Family Hall or the Reading Room in Hesburgh Library where I fear to make a noise, let alone sniffle. I fear the day when someone accosts me for such a despicable crime. With respect to getting up from your seat in class, I sense a similar stigma. My neighbor might think, “Wow, is he really getting up to blow his nose. How disrespectful?” Perhaps this is a sign my social anxiety is getting the better of me. However, I cannot read someone else’s mind, and thus I am reserved to these types of sentiments. It remains that the consensus is to stay put for the 50 or 75 minutes and suppress the sniffles and stifle the coughs, even if it means mildly distracting others.

At this point, the “freshmen flu” seems to be more of a plague than a common cold. In contemplating this idea, I attempted to conjure up something good that can come from illness. I once thought rather optimistically that perhaps the “freshmen flu” is indicative of Notre Dame’s dedication to a diverse student population, of whom hail from all corners of the world. Subsequently, I wondered if the tour guides tell prospective students and families of the hundreds of ailments that find their origin in the hundreds of hometowns. Probably not. Yes, it is fantastic that geographically diverse students live at Notre Dame, but how does that cure my cough? It does not. 

And so, I offer this final reflection. Consider the reason for why a majority of Notre Dame is sick. I concede that there exists a specific virus that causes the “freshmen flu,” but I challenge that there is more at play. Given the change in seasons and weather, one’s exposure to sunlight, vitamin D, is dramatically reduced. With respect to classes, exam season is here, and everyone likewise must devote more and more time to studying or doing work. It is no longer “Syllabus Week.” We now must engage in serious work, leaving our silliness for another day. Late nights of studying, all-nighters and copious amounts of caffeine are tried and true practices to ensure preparation for assessments. However, these tactics invariably have adverse effects on one’s sleep schedule and by extension, health. 

Perhaps, the “freshmen flu” is good in the sense that it unites us as a community in a moment of reflection to consider how we have been treating our bodies. Maybe it is that our poor time budgeting and neglect of self-care are finally catching up to us. Poor eating habits, lack of exercise or self-isolation, all of which are common, are, nevertheless, harmful to one’s mental and bodily health. Perhaps, we need to allocate more time to self-care, whether that manifests as engaging in an extracurricular passion, buying a delicious dessert or snack or even just sleeping. Take care not to forget those simple pleasures of life, which have an uncanny ability to keep you sane amid the craziness of academic life.

Find times to treat your health like wealth, even if it means washing your Dayquil cough syrup down with a pumpkin spice latte.

Jonah Tran is a first-year at Notre Dame double majoring in Finance and Economics and minoring in Classics. Although fully embracing the notorious title of a “Menbroza,” he prides himself on being an Educated Young Southern Gentleman. You can contact Jonah by email at jtran5@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Categories
News

University to require flu vaccines for students

Director of University Health Services (UHS) Edward Junkins announced in an email Wednesday that all Notre Dame undergraduate, graduate and professional students will be required to receive a seasonal flu vaccine again this fall.

This is the third year the University has required students to get the flu vaccine. The requirement began in the fall 2020 semester during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“[B]ecause symptoms of the flu can often mimic COVID-19, minimizing the cases of flu on campus can preserve UHS testing resources for COVID-19 testing and help conserve local health care resources,” Junkins wrote in Wednesday’s email.

As in previous years, the University will offer free flu vaccines to students at its annual flu blitz. This year, the first Flu Blitz will take place Sept. 20 to 21. The first round of vaccines will be for students only.

The second flu blitz will be open to students, faculty, staff and dependents from Oct. 11 to 12.

Registration is required for both flu blitzes and will open Monday, Sept. 12.

Junkins wrote that students are also permitted to receive their flu vaccine at a local primary care provider, pharmacy or walk-in clinic but must upload documentation proving they received the vaccine to their UHS patient portal. 

Students who fail to get vaccinated by Monday, Oct. 31 will have a hold placed on their student account — preventing them from registering for classes next semester.

According to the email, students, faculty and staff who have any other questions or would like to submit a request for a medical or religious exemption to the vaccine should email immunizations@nd.edu.

Students who previously received an exemption from the flu vaccination requirement do not need to provide updated documentation this year, Junkins wrote.