The influenza virus has returned to college campuses amid relaxed COVID-19 restrictions, increased indoor gatherings, and holiday travel.
While some universities in the Philadelphia region have seen a significant early rise in flu cases, Penn has only seen "a couple cases" of the flu on-campus. Medical Director of Student Health Service Vanessa Stoloff told The Daily Pennsylvanian that there have been no major flare-ups or instances of the flu spreading between people.
At Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey, about 180 students have been diagnosed with the flu since Nov. 1, PhillyVoice reported. At Penn State University, there have been 273 positive cases as of Nov. 22, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Other universities outside of the region have also experienced influenza outbreaks. Over 700 students have tested positive for the flu at the University of Michigan, the Inquirer reported.
Over the past three weeks, 55 people at the Hospital of Pennsylvania have tested positive for the flu out of the 1,610 people who received tests, Stoloff said.
Penn is not currently testing students for the flu at Penn Wellness, as it does not really shift the ways in which students receive treatment for the illness, Stoloff said.
"If someone is truly sick and has all the symptoms of the flu, we will really recommend all the same things and treatments, regardless of the test outcome," she said, "Oftentimes an antibiotic treatment won't even help at the point that a student does come in to get tested, so sometimes we are just trying to provide supportive care."
Stoloff reminded students that if they do have the flu or flu-like symptoms, they should stay home from class and wear a mask if they are forced to leave their homes.
The 2021-2022 academic year marks the first year Penn required all students to receive a flu vaccine. In October, a record 14,000 community members received the flu vaccine at Penn’s flu clinic. Nearly 11,000 students received the flu shot.
This year’s flu season is seeing the virus spread more rapidly than last year as COVID-19 vaccines have allowed for the reopening of schools and restaurants, as well as an increase in travel and indoor gatherings. Experts anticipate a potential “twindemic” in the coming winter months as a growing number of influenza cases join the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Despite a recent increase in the number of laboratory-confirmed influenza cases and patients reporting influenza symptoms, the positivity rate for influenza remains low for the week of Nov. 20, the CDC reports. The CDC recommends that everyone age six months and older receive the influenza vaccine, with few medical exemptions.
In an email sent to the Penn community on Nov. 17, Chief Wellness Officer Benoit Dubé reminded students to maintain safe behaviors during Thanksgiving break — including wearing masks, scheduling COVID-19 screening tests, and fulfilling the flu immunization requirement.
“As we navigate this holiday season, it is important to remember that we are all responsible to continue following public health guidance on campus and elsewhere. It’s also important to acknowledge that the holiday season may be filled with mixed emotions—take the time to care for yourself,” Dubé wrote.
Senior Reporter Jonah Charlton contributed reporting.