Sitting in her four-hour lab in late November, University of Wisconsin senior Madeline Krasno suddenly felt achy, shifted between being freezing and boiling hot, then told her teaching assistant she felt like she had been hit by a bus and burst into tears.
“It was extra strength Tylenol every four hours that helped me survive it,” Krasno said of her weeklong case of the influenza virus. “It was so bad at one point I couldn’t even keep water down because it just caused me to gag.”
University Health Services told Krasno her case of the flu was one of the first to be documented on campus this season.
Prior to winter break, UHS gave flu vaccinations to approximately 10,000 students – 25 percent of the student population and 30 percent of students living in university housing, which UHS director Sarah Van Orman said was encouraging.
Krasno never had a flu shot in her life before last Thursday. She had avoided her flu shots because the illness had never stricken her before. After catching the flu this year, Krasno said it’s possible she will get flu shots in the future, but is concerned it only prevents the flu between 60 and 70 percent of the time.
Patrick Remington, the associate dean for public health at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, said people are less likely to take preventative health measures, such as getting a flu shot, if they are in generally good health.
“The challenge with this, similar to many other preventative interventions, is that people don’t have a problem,” Remington said. “It’s very hard to get people to do something when they don’t have a problem.”
Remington added the vaccine has never been perfect for the flu, but getting vaccinated is better than doing nothing. While it reduces your risk, it cannot eliminate your risk of getting the illness, he said.
According to Van Orman, many students who have never had the flu are weary about getting vaccinated. It is easy to think the symptoms are similar to a cold, she said, but in reality, they will be home from work or class for at least five to seven days and do not feel back to normal for several weeks.
UHS will begin offering free vaccinations to students again Tuesday, but encouraging students to get flu shots is no longer UHS’ main effort, Van Orman said.
According to the UHS website, the department is focused on communicating to students that they should stay home if they have flu symptoms. The university is also encouraging students to take preventative measures, including asking students to wash their hands and cover their cough.
Van Orman said this year’s flu season is moderately severe and hit early. She added a lot of the nationwide shock comes from the fact the country has not seen a flu season this severe in more than five years.
“I stress to people that this is normal in the flu,” Van Orman said. “This is nothing we haven’t seen before.”