March Influenza Hits Harvard More Severely Than in Past

A form of influenza that traditionally strikes the Harvard community in March seems to be more widespread and severe this year than in the past. University Health Services (UHS) doctors said this week.

"It's as regular as clockwork," said Director of Health Services Dr. Warren E.C. Wacker. "This is different, in that we've seen people with real influenza instead of a flu-like virus, and we've seen a lot of secondary bronchitis," he added.

Although both influenza and the more common 'flu' are caused by viruses, influenza is much rarer and is considered by doctors to be more serious, Wacker said.

He estimated that 80 percent of Harvard students may have contracted the illness this winter.

Symptoms of the illness, which include chest congestion, high fever, muscle aches and a cough, last from a week to 10 days, said Dr. Sholem Postel, chief of professional services at UHS.

A heavy outbreak of influenza, centered in the Boston area, has hit an estimated 1.5 million people throughout Massachusetts, officials at the Massachusetts Public Health Department said yesterday.

They estimated that 80 percent of these victims are school children, college students and young adults under 25 years old.

Harvard's Stillman Infirmary has been more full than usual in the last two weeks, and an estimated 25 percent of patients admitted had the combination of influenza and bronchitis, Postel said.

"I was too sick to get out of bed, and I had to sick out of three exams," said Sarah A. Bicks '87, who was a Stillman patient for four days last week.

If bacterial elements accompany the virus, the usual prescription of aspirin and fluids is supplemented by antibiotics, Wacker said.

The influenza, which is transmitted through and air by viruses, hit Boston College about two months ago in one of the largest onslaughts in recent years, said Mary T. Menton R.N. of that college's Stillman Infirmary.