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Flu Outbreaks Hit College Campuses

College campuses across the nation are seeing widespread severe flu outbreaks this fall.

At the University of Michigan, nearly 530 students have been diagnosed since the beginning of October, Inside Higher Ed reports. William Schaffner, a professor of infectious disease at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, says part of the reason why flu cases are spiking may be attributed to human behavior as campuses and businesses open up and ease restrictions related to COVID-19.

“Last year we had very historically low flu because we were social distancing, wearing masks, attending many activities virtually, and our children were also not going to school,” Schaffner tells Inside Higher Ed. “Now we’re opening up, trying to take off our masks and going back to in-person activities, including on college campuses. So we anticipate, of course, it will be back.”


At the University of Michigan, where the test positivity rate hit 27.2%, the outbreak seems unusually large.

“While we often start to see some flu activity now, the size of this outbreak is unusual,” Juan Luis Marquez, medical director with the Washtenaw County Health Department, says in a press release.

More than three-quarters of students who have tested positive for the flu are unvaccinated. University health officials and the county health department say they are working with the CDC to investigating the outbreak.

“Partnering with the CDC will accelerate our understanding of how this flu season may unfold regionally and nationally in the setting of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Lindsey Mortenson, acting executive director of the University Health Service, says in a press release.


College students typically are amongst those who skip their annual flu shot. According to Sarah Van Orman, chief health officer at USC Student Health, roughly only 20 to 40% of people age 18 to 24 receive the flu shot annually.

That has changed. At some schools, including the University of Southern California and McDaniel College in Westminster, Md., students are required to receive flu vaccinations in order to return to campus this fall.

“While we initially strongly encouraged students to get the flu shot, we feel it is now necessary with flu season upon us to require students to provide documentation to the Wellness Center of having received a flu shot before returning to campus in the new year,” McDaniel officials wrote in an email to students in October.

Sources: Inside Higher Ed, University of Michigan

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