‘There was a day when like half the class was gone’: Flu season hit Middlebury hard this J-Term



With flu season in full swing, students across campus spent J-Term coughing, downing Emergen-C and trekking through the snow to Parton Health Center. This flu season was particularly bad due to inaccuracy in this year’s flu vaccine.

“Parton Health Services was quite busy in mid-late January helping students with influenza-like-illness,” said Dr. Mark Peluso, the director of health services and the college and head team physician.

Flu season can run from October to May but is usually at its height between December and February in the U.S. Parton Health Services encourages students to get vaccinated in anticipation of the annual epidemic, and provides 450 to 750 flu shots each year.

Vaccines vary from year to year, depending on the circulating strains of influenza. The food and Drug Administration (FDA) identifies the strains for the upcoming flu season nearly a year in advance so that manufacturers have time to produce enough doses. This can result in an inaccurate vaccine, since strains of the virus change over time.

This flu season, one of the FDA’s B-lineage predictions was inaccurate, resulting in a less effective vaccine.

Ella Jones ’23 remarked that she and many of her Arabic 102 classmates fell ill during J-Term.

“There was a day when like half the class was gone,” she said.

Jones herself developed a fever and a cough halfway through J-Term and visited Porter ExpressCare where she was prescribed antibiotics for a potential ear infection, but was not tested for flu. She explained that she had hoped she would be tested for the virus so she could warn friends and be prescribed Tamiflu, an antiviral that can shorten the duration of flu symptoms.

The doctors at Parton told Sophie Bolinger ’22 that she most likely had the flu when she came in during J-Term. Bolinger said she had to wait two hours for an appointment after she walked in since she had not scheduled one ahead of time. She explained that she was not tested for the flu, but the doctor offered to prescribe Tamiflu.

Both Jones and Bolinger said they attended classes for some of the time they were sick. With such a limited number of class meetings during J-Term, neither felt she could afford to be absent for long. “I definitely should have missed more, but I went because I felt like I couldn’t miss class because I had already missed three days, and it honestly really affected my performance in the class,” Bolinger said.

“Flu testing is available at Parton,” Peluso said in an email to The Campus, “However, when flu is widespread in the community, the CDC guidelines for flu testing support a clinical diagnosis (i.e. no testing is necessary) unless the patient is being admitted to the hospital or is at high risk of complications.”

Local health services attempt to mitigate the effects of the virus within the Middlebury community through vaccination, Tamiflu and the typical protocol for preventing the spread of illnesses. However, with so many students living so close together, viruses like flu can spread quickly throughout the college.

“Dorms, dining halls, classrooms and other shared facilities place students in a unique situation with respect to exposure,” Peluso said. “Flu shots, cough etiquette, hand washing and hand hygiene, maintaining hydration, and getting plenty of rest are good ways to reduce risk of getting the flu.”