Flu cases swamp health centers on 2 college campuses

Flu outbreaks are swamping student health services on two Maryland campuses this week.

More than 400 students have sought treatment at the University of Maryland, College Park, forcing health care providers to wave off students seeking help with less urgent medical problems.


"It has been very busy," said Dr. Gail Lee, clinical director at the University Health Center. "Half of the providers are seeing mainly flu patients, so we are deferring on appointments for routine matters that are not of an urgent nature. Some of us are working longer hours."

At Towson University, more than 100 students have turned up at the Dowell Health Center with flu-like symptoms since Feb. 4.


"I've been seeing patients all day," said the center's director, Dr. Jane Halpern. "It's crowded, and we've had several health care providers call in sick, so we're short-staffed. ... We're dropping like flies, too."

College Park officials are describing the outbreak there as the worst in recent years. "Hopefully, the outbreak has peaked and will only last one to two more weeks," Lee said.

Health officials at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County reported only a small increase in cases this week.

At Johns Hopkins' Homewood campus, a spokesman said the student health center has seen a steady trickle - perhaps a half-dozen students a week - with flu symptoms. But the pace has been manageable.

The College Park and Towson outbreaks appear to have begun as students returned from their winter vacation. In the close quarters typical on a college campus, the virus began spreading rapidly.

Students have turned up at the health centers complaining of body aches, headaches, high fever, chills, fatigue, nausea, vomiting and dehydration.

Staff members are treating the fever with antipyretics and offering intravenous fluids if the patient appears dehydrated.

"If they are seen within the first 48 hours of symptoms ... we can give them Tamiflu, an antiviral medicine that can moderate the length and severity of the illness, Lee said.


No one has been hospitalized at College Park or Towson. Patients typically are sent back to their dorms or residences with instructions on how to care for themselves - plenty of rest, lots of fluids and time. The illness typically lasts five to seven days.

Students are also being reminded to wash their hands frequently and cover their mouths when they cough.

"Some ... are away from home for the first time and do not know what to do if they become ill," Lee said.

The clinic at College Park is also administering a rapid flu test called Bianax in some cases, to make sure it's the flu that is being treated and to identify the influenza strain.

"So far, we have only had one case of Influenza B. All the others are Influenza A," Lee said.

Flu vaccines are available to students hoping to avoid catching the virus from their classmates.


At Towson, Halpern said the health center would put a notice on the campus e-mail system today urging students who are sick not to attend classes and asking professors to excuse their absences.

The health center does not write notes for students. "We try to stay out of that," Halpern said. But "in the case of flu and flu-like illnesses, we tell them not to go to class if they have a temperature of 100 or greater and they are coughing."

"Everybody is better off if they don't go to class and cough all over each other," she said.