As influenza continues to spread across the U.S. and North Texas, students and alumni will gather at the University of Dallas for its annual Groundhog celebration.
Since the event places a large amount of people in a small space, the festivities could put attendees at a greater risk of contracting the flu.
According to the Texas Influenza Surveillance and Activity Report updated by the Texas Department of State Health Services on Jan. 27, “Influenza activity remains high across the state of Texas. Compared to the previous week, the percentage of patient visits due to influenza-like illness (ILI) and the percentage of specimens testing positive for influenza reported by public health and hospital laboratories has marginally increased … It is too early to tell if influenza activity has peaked for the season in Texas.”
Hospitalization rates and deaths continue to climb across the country, and some schools have even closed down temporarily.
“It’s a real problem and is not something to be taken lightly,” biology professor Dr. William Cody said. “We are about 1 percent below epidemic levels. It is extremely important to protect yourself against this disease.”
Vaccines are extremely helpful for avoiding the flu. If 90 percent of the population receives the vaccine it creates a herd immunity for those unable to take it, he said.
“The reports that the vaccine is only 10 percent [effective] is misleading,” Cody said.
The study was done in Australia. There is reason to believe vaccine could be more effective in the U.S.
Outbreaks of the flu bear significant meaning to many students who can remember the campus-wide flu outbreak last spring.
Classes were cancelled as well as TGIT, due to the high number of sick persons.
“The campus was like a ghost town,” sophomore Andrew Mosier said. “I really hope we don’t have a repeat of last year.”
Since Groundhog poses a unique health challenge, it is important to practice safe hygiene habits.
“Washing hands and sneezing into sleeves can make a great difference and help prevent the spread of the flu,” Cody said. “It is also best to avoid sharing drinks and food.”
It is also critical that if a person does get infected, they limit their interactions with others.
“If you are infected with the flu, try to minimize contact because on average each person with the flu infects four others,” Cody said.
The demographic most susceptible to the disease’s severe symptoms are those 65 and older. Those 50-64 are the next largest at-risk age group.
Children are also at risk, and, because many alumni and their families are returning to campus, may be uniquely at-risk for this weekend’s festivities. Last year, Campus Ministry cancelled Masses after the on-campus flu outbreak in order to protect these three vulnerable populations.
“We have seen very few flu cases this semester,” said Dr. Lora Rodriguez of the UD Health Clinic. “However, last year we had a huge influx of cases after Groundhog. I am worried about this year.”
Rodriguez said that if you show symptoms, to get tested and stay away from others. People are most contagious when they are feverish.
“We can test and have many treatment options,” Rodriguez said. “We will take care of our students.”