Give him a tissue: Flu outbreak makes impact on Samford’s campus

Sam Chandler, Managing Editor

Drew Patterson’s spring semester got off to a hot start. On the first day of classes, Jan. 23, he registered a 101- degree fever.

The next day it climbed to 102-degrees, a temperature that accentuated the ache and fatigue bearing down on Patterson’s body.

“It was not fun,” he said. “I felt like I was about to die.”

Others across campus can relate to that sentiment.

Patterson, a senior sport administration major, is one of many members of the Samford community who has contracted the flu this semester.

University Health Services Practice Manager Lexie England said on Monday that her office has documented a larger number of positive flu cases this year than it did last year. England said she didn’t have an exact number, but she estimated that close to 75 cases have been reported since the semester began.

“This is directly related to the region’s flu cases year-over-year as well,” England said. “It is not a Samford-only outbreak, and I don’t want anyone to panic.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Alabama is currently one of 46 states where the flu is classified as widespread. The CDC assigns states a widespread designation if laboratory-confirmed cases of the flu or flu-like illnesses are present in at least half of the state’s regions.

The nearly 75 cases reported to UHS, however, may not represent the entirety of the recent outbreak on campus.

A representative from the MedHelp health clinic location at 1 West Lakeshore Drive reported on Tuesday that it was “slammed” with Samford students last week. The representative also said that the MedHelp location on Highway 280 received similar traffic.

At UHS, England said that patients have been diagnosed with a range of illnesses apart from the flu.

“We have seen sinus infections and other upper respiratory illnesses as well,” she said. “It really is common this time of year.”

That’s especially true on Samford’s campus, and Step Sing appears to be at least one major contributor.

“Every year in February and early March we have a lot of students who get sick with sinus infections—or some get the flu and colds—just because they’re pushing it so hard with Step Sing,” Vice President for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management Phil Kimrey said.

Step Sing has been known to take a toll on students’ sleep and diet patterns, and Kimrey said that both of those items can play a role in the proliferation of illness. He also identified the close proximity maintained by participants during practices and shows as a factor that contributes to its dispersion. A record-high 1,100 students participated in this year’s production.

But Step Sing isn’t the only piece of the puzzle. According to Kimrey and England, the inconsistent weather—with cool nights and warm days—also makes an impact.

Emily Hynds, chair of the mathematics and computer science department, has another theory on why an outbreak of illness seems to accompany Step Sing on an annual basis.

Rather than cast blame on the event as a whole, Hynds believes that poor time management practices are a more probable cause.

“I think the real issue is that students are sometimes ill-prepared to balance the demands for those few weeks,” Hynds said. “I tell my students that if they are not at practice, they should be eating, sleeping or doing homework. Step Sing is your social life for a few weeks, and you don’t have time for more.”

One thing is clear regardless of the outbreak’s origins: In classrooms across campus, seats have been left empty.

Reports on the extent of such absences, however, have varied by professor.

David Bains, interim chair of the religion department, said there has been a steady stream of absences in his classes since Step Sing ended. By his observation, the traditional Step Sing season illness has affected more students this year than in years past.

Adjunct Professor of Kinesiology Cathryn Tanner reinforced Bains’ assessment, but with a slight caveat. She said she had expected to record more absences.

Tanner facilitates Samford’s concepts of fitness and health classes, which now accommodate around 130 students per section. In her three sections, Tanner said only 15 to 18 total students have missed class due to the flu.
“Compared to what I was hearing about the flu, I thought, ‘Well man, I’ll probably have half of my class missing or at least a third of my class won’t be there,’” Tanner said, “but that wasn’t the case.”

Patterson, who missed his first week of classes, has since recovered. He said his teachers were understanding of his protracted absence.

Now, he’s watching his fellow students deal with the illness. Last week, he estimated that at least 10 people were missing from his mass media and society class.

His advice to those trying to stay healthy? Embrace citrus.

“Orange juice saved my life,” he said.

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