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Harvard Students Grapple With Rising Rates of Respiratory Illness on Campus

Harvard students' return to campus this spring has been marked with a surgey of respiratory illness, including Covid-19, RSV, and the flu.
Harvard students' return to campus this spring has been marked with a surgey of respiratory illness, including Covid-19, RSV, and the flu. By Laurinne Eugenio
By Alex Chou and Camilla J. Martinez, Crimson Staff Writers

As the spring semester kicks into high gear, Harvard students struggled to deal with a surge of respiratory illnesses on campus.

HUHS Director Giang T. Nguyen, Senior Director for Student Mental Health Barbara Lewis, and Associate Provost for Student Affairs Robin Glover warned students about “high levels of respiratory illness including flu, COVID-19, and RSV” at Harvard in a Tuesday email.

Zahra F. Choudry ’27 said she recently developed symptoms of illness, adding that she woke up Monday morning and "just could not breath.”

“I felt like I was actually facing death,” she said.

Some students said HUHS failed to provide adequate care in response to their complaints of illness.

Alexandra Arguello ’27 had been experiencing symptoms of Influenza A since she returned to campus in late January. Though she visited HUHS just two days into the semester, Arguello said, the appointment was unhelpful.

“I don’t think they were too helpful besides confirming that I was positive with the flu because they didn’t prescribe me anything or give me any notes for missing classes or practice,” Arguello said. “They just told me to hydrate and rest, and they gave me Gatorade and apple juice.”

HUHS spokesperson Tiffanie Green declined to comment for this article.

Still, other students praised HUHS for being easily accessible even amid a surge in cases.

Vikram M. Kolli ’27 said testing positive for strep throat would have been more worrying “because I’ve never gotten sick so much in the span of a year,” but his visits to HUHS were “a very positive experience.”

“Usually, they’ve always been pretty flexible about fitting me in, especially if it’s something like I need to get tested so I can get a specific medication,” Kolli said.

In their Tuesday email, HUHS administrators reminded affiliates to reduce their risk and risk to others “by wearing a high-quality face mask in crowded indoor settings; remaining at home if unwell; and staying up to date on vaccines—including COVID-19, influenza, pertussis, RSV, and pneumococcal disease.”

Despite being sick, many students said they felt pressure to continue with their regular academic and extracurricular obligations.

Choudry said that while many people are sick, “I think they’re trying to hide the fact that they’re sick so that they can get away with going to classes and things like that.”

Arguello, a member of the cheerleading team, said she has similarly noticed many of her friends’ roommates, classmates, and team members calling in sick.

“It does affect not having people to do group work with,” Arguello said, adding that she has also “had to miss classes because of having to isolate.”

And while a number of factors — including the colder weather and increased time indoors — may contribute to the recent uptick, some students have also highlighted the need for more recovery time.

Kolli said that he worries about “not really having that flexibility of self-care because things are starting to build up with momentum in terms of classes,” particularly if he’s “feeling very tired and fatigued.”

Choudry said she noticed being “more susceptible to these viruses and bacteria just from a general lack of sleep and lack of taking care of myself that comes with the onset of the semester.”

“When you don’t properly recover from illness, I assume your immune system doesn’t bounce back in the way that you want it to,” Choudry added. “Are we more susceptible to sickness if we’re not getting the opportunity to really recover?”

—Staff writer Alex Chou can be reached at alex.chou@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Camilla J. Martinez can be reached at camilla.martinez@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @camillajinm.

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