Tufts sees rise in seasonal illnesses, respiratory viral infections on campus

Health Service is pictured on Oct. 15. Anna Steinbock / The Tufts Daily

Student Life sent out a campus-wide email informing the Tufts community about the rise of seasonal illnesses as well as cases of norovirus, influenza, mono and strep throat on Nov. 5. The email encouraged students to take numerous measures to protect themselves from contagious illnesses.

Marie Caggiano, medical director of Tufts Health Service, explained that the campus is seeing a rise in both seasonal illnesses and viral infections in an email to the Daily.

“Some of these illnesses are seasonal, but the number of students sick with respiratory viral infections is high, which is why we are strongly encouraging mask wearing, good hand hygiene and flu vaccination,” she said.

Caggiano also detailed some of the symptoms that are common for these illnesses.

“Most of these illnesses cause respiratory symptoms, including cough, runny nose, sore throat and fever,” she said.

She emphasized that each student’s situation is different, but general preventive and protective measures can be taken to ensure the safety of all individuals in the community.

“It’s difficult to generalize because each student’s case can be different from the next but, generally, when feeling sick, it’s important to limit your contact with others so you do not spread illness,” she said. “It’s also important to rest so your body can recover. Students who need medical care or health advice can contact the Health Service or their PCP.”

Caggiano discussed the importance of masking when students are ill in public, as well as the positive effect of the influenza vaccine on preventing seasonal flu.

“Most respiratory viral illnesses spread the same way COVID-19 does, through respiratory droplets and aerosols,” she said. “Influenza vaccination is a very important strategy for preventing seasonal flu, especially in a close community such as Tufts.”

In terms of whether the rise in common illnesses is related to the pandemic, Caggiano suggested that the surge may be related to reduced COVID-19 restrictions, which have largely limited in-person contact.

“We continue to see a moderate number of COVID-19 cases, most of which have been acquired in the community,” she said. “Although many students may be experiencing illness for the first time since the onset of the pandemic, this is a direct result of having more contact with others and a general relaxing of the measures that have been in place to prevent spread of COVID-19.”

Amelia Gleixner, a sophomore, explained that the growing number of sick students has impacted attendance in many classes.

“I would say in the classes that don’t take attendance … attendance has significantly decreased, and people have been saying they’ve stopped coming because they’re sick … and then in my classes that do take attendance, there’s been a lot of coughing … and even some professors have gotten sick,” she said.

Gleixner also detailed her suitemates’ and her own experiences becoming sick in the past month.

“I would say five out of the six people in our suite have some kind of respiratory illness and have had for like the past four weeks,” she said. “[In the] beginning of October, I was really, really sick. Just like chills, exhaustion, really bad cough… that lasted for like three weeks. And then I got better and now I’m sick again. Pretty much the same stuff, mostly the cough is the worst of it”.

She also described her suite’s experience with health appointments at Health Service.

“My suitemates called [Health Service] after two weeks in and they were only giving telehealth clinician visits, which makes sense,” Gleixner said. “[Health Service] basically said… take this list of [over the counter] medication.”

Michelle Bowdler, executive director of Health and Wellness Services, discussed the work of Health Service in assisting students with symptoms of illness in an email to the Daily.

“We are working very hard to provide medical care and advice to all students who need it,” she said. “Students who call with respiratory illness will speak to a nurse who will triage their symptoms, provide advice on self-care, and schedule an appointment to be seen if needed.”

Bowdler confirmed that there has been a significant rise in students who have reported sickness in the past few weeks.

“There has been a significant uptick, which is why we sent a communication to students encouraging them to adopt strategies to prevent further spread of illness,” she said.

Bowdler noted that even though seasonal illnesses vary by year, this fall has seen a particularly high number of students with sickness. 

“Every year is different, but this fall the volume of ill students has been very high,” she said. “There are so many reasons why this may be the case. We should all focus on the ways we might be able to prevent further spread of illness.”


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