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Flu Outbreak Strikes MIT, Thriving in Crowded Conditions

By Frank Dabek
staff reporter

Low temperatures and the approach of winter serve as a bellwether for the impending cold and flu season. Though the season is just beginning, students are already becoming ill, causing them to miss class and fall behind in work.

Mark A. Goldstein, chief of student health services, said that he and several of his colleagues have seen a number of students exhibiting classic flu symptoms. The symptoms include a fever up to 102 degrees, chills, a headache, muscle aches, and fatigue.

It is still difficult to say whether this season will be better or worse than others since it is just beginning, Goldstein said. The flu season generally lasts two to three months.

But the conditions present in MIT dormitories tend to foster the rapid spread of germs, so once a virus is present, it tends to spread quickly.

"Life at MIT helps spread influenza," Goldstein said. Concentrating students in dormitories, living groups, and classrooms increases the possibility of getting the flu. The flu flourishes in closed environments because it is easy to come in contact with an affected individual and contract the virus, which spreads via infected body fluids, Goldstein said.

Students affected by flu

The effects of the flu on students varied. Many students were ill over Thanksgiving, putting a damper on the holiday.

Among them was Floyd J. Jered '98. The flu "prevented me getting any work done," Jered said. He said that he did not get any extensions, however.

"I was first tired, and then I got a headache," said Torkel D. Engeness G. "It affected my work, because I had to be away from work for three days Thanksgiving wasn't as nice as it could have been," he said.

"I also managed to pass it on to my roommates," he added.

Joseph B. Ferreira '98, who was ill with the flu for several days, "only missed two lectures." Despite the less extended illness, he said that it was difficult to get back up to speed because it is hard to get in touch with professors regarding missed material.

Vaccine provides protection

The only way to prevent the flu is through a vaccine, Goldstein said.

The vaccine is not normally given to college-aged patients unless they are affected by some other medical problem like diabetes or a kidney disorder, but it will be administered upon request and is covered by MIT medical insurance. The vaccine is 50 to 80 percent effective, Goldstein said.

For a person stricken by the flu, literature distributed by the Health Education Service recommends drinking large quantities of fluids (eight ounces every several hours), using a humidifier, gargling with salt water, and taking acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or aspirin to reduce muscle aches and fever. Rest is also recommended, but some activity can help prevent lung infections.

These self-care methods are helpful for minor cases of the flu. However, if a sore throat becomes severe, chest pain develops, or pain develops in or around the eyes or ears, it is possible that another disease may be at fault, and students should seek medical treatment.