Every time student Eliot DeVita stepped into a lecture hall this past week at Penn State, the sound of coughing filled the room.
“I brace for it every time I have a lecture, which is frequent since I’m a freshman,” DeVita (freshmen-psychology) said. “I guess now, I’m kind of getting used to it, but for it to be going on so long, there are some serious concerns I have for the student [population].”
This mysterious illness, branded by students as the “PSFlu,” has taken over campus the past couple of weeks and does not seem to be slowing down anytime soon, according to DeVita.
“The term ‘PSFlu’ has traveled around a lot this year, and I think it sums up the illness perfectly,'' DeVita said. “Everyone keeps getting the same symptoms — cough, runny nose, congestion — the only difference is really the severity in my opinion.”
DeVita said while she does not know anyone personally who has been affected by the illness, she said she thinks everyone at Penn State is “bound to experience the worst of it” at some point.
“It is really distracting,” DeVita said. “Try focusing on your professor when you also don’t want to get any germs from the person who sat next to you who is not doing so hot. It’s just an impossible situation because you just can’t miss class now that everything is back in person.”
Like DeVita, Sara Cross said she is worried about how being sick will affect her performance in the classroom.
“I don’t want to get behind if I can help it,” Cross (freshmen-kinesiology) said. “Being sick was so much more frustrating than it had to be because I had to keep up with schoolwork at the same time as I was trying to heal.”
Cross said she has been coughing “on and off” for a little over a month.
“It first started out as allergies after I found out I was quite allergic to ragweed,” Cross said. “But then pink eye was going around on my floor, and then soon after, I ended up getting this awful cold I am still dealing with today.”
Cross said a visit to Penn State University Health Services provided her the needed antibiotics for conjunctivitis — commonly known as “pink eye” — but said her developing cold was not as straightforward.
“Honestly, other than a negative COVID test, there is not a lot you can do,” Cross said. “It’s like most people only care that you do not have the virus.”
When it comes to the coronavirus, Cross said she has been vaccinated and hopes to rely on that immunity this fall nevertheless.
“Even though I have been quite sick, and I am still experiencing repercussions of that, it is not going to stop me from enjoying my first year in college,” Cross said.
Fall football weekends have been an excuse for Cross to take care of her body all week in order to feel “well” enough to go out, she said.
“I used to go out every weekend, especially because of the four straight home games we had, but I couldn’t keep up,” Cross said. “It was like a cycle, I would continue to feel worse the next day, and it ended up not being good for my mental wellbeing.”
Cross said after staying in last weekend, she can feel the benefits of the extra rest.
“Even so, I’m used to getting the common cold in previous years,” Cross said. “Even now, I knew how this was going to go from the first day I heard the saying ‘PSFlu,’ but I had gone long enough since the beginning of the pandemic without getting sick that I did not take it seriously.”
Halfway through the fall semester, Naks Sharma has yet to experience any sickness, and he considers himself one of the “lucky ones.”
“I would say I am kind of worried about getting sick only because then it becomes such a hassle,” Sharma (junior-computer science) said. “If I take my own precautions though and keep a mask on for one thing, I’d say I’ll be alright.”
Sharma said differentiating between indoor and outdoor spaces is critical.
“I think with the pandemic, we have learned the benefits of social distancing and taking care of ourselves so that we do not pass our germs onto each other,” Sharma said. “I am still nervous, but looking into options to settle myself in the near future is comforting.”
In the meantime, Sharma said he is diving deep into booster shots and what the timeline of distribution could mean for him — though he admits it won’t help him deal with the regular cold if it comes his way because he said it’s all about the “reassurance.”
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Go to class. Do homework. Repeat. This is the perpetual routine many Penn State students fin…
“Some people don’t believe in the science behind vaccines, and that is fine with me,” Sharma said. “But for myself, I see a viable resource I want to lean on whenever I can and that includes now, with all this talk of sickness spreading to more people on campus.”
Throughout September, Gabrielle El-Adas was sick for almost two weeks.
“As soon as I feel sick, I like to address it immediately,” El-Adas said. “However, in my case, I caught the bug from my roommates, who had all come home with coughs [after] the first home football game, so I couldn’t really get away from it.”
El-Adas said her first big worry was if it was the coronavirus.
“I am 100% the annoying roommate who always pesters her friends to go get tested,” El-Adas said. “Even so, I take it in stride. I’d rather be safe than sorry, and for me, making sure my roommates are being held accountable, too, is really important.”
While she did test negative, as a State College local, El-Adas said her parents reside in town and she worries about their safety as much as her own.
“All of my siblings have moved out of the house due to college, so my biggest goal nowadays is to make sure I am not passing on any type of sickness to those I love,” El-Adas said. “I don’t want to be the reason they might think it's COVID, even if it’s not.”
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El-Adas said while she usually does not get the flu shot, she will get it this year, realizing “the benefits outweigh any type of negatives” she may have once had.
Trijal Kaistha said he began feeling ill in mid-September.
“I immediately felt it hit me,” Kaistha (junior-biology) said. “I knew the ‘PSFlu’ had been going around a lot already even this early into the semester, but I did not realize how bad it was.”
Kaistha said he believes this cold strain has been even worse, as masks are not being worn as intensely outside of class as they were last year.
“If you are on campus in the afternoon, there are tons of students walking by, passing each other in close quarters and without masks,” Kaistha said. “I’m surprised more people did not realize a flu-like outbreak would occur.”
Kaistha said he was sick for three days, describing it as “the worst reaction” out of all his other friends who had also been sick.
“It then turned into an ear infection, which was not great,” Kaistha said. “I ate a lot of cough drops, drank Emergen-C and had a lot of Advil that weekend.”
Similar to Cross’ sentiments toward enjoying campus life, Jackson Buchenauer said he is “less concerned” about the “PSFlu” and more concerned with making the most out of his college experience.
“If I get it, I get it, and I will deal,” Buchenauer (sophomore-broadcast journalism) said. “Everyone has been sick. I know people who have had bronchitis even, but it shouldn’t raise an alarm.”
Buchanauer said he was “grateful” the university was less stringent with some of the rules that were set in place at the start of the 2020-21 academic year, which included outdoor mask mandates and social distancing indoors.
“Last year was really difficult to get the Penn State experience we all wanted,” Buchanauer said. “It’s nice to not be shut down and instead be able to make our own choices out in the open.”
Looking ahead, Buchenauer said he hopes more people will spend time focusing on things they can control.
“Even with so many people catching this cold, I don’t think anyone’s taking this semester for granted,” Bucnahauer said. “We only get four or five years in college — my attitude is to just live in the moment and have some fun.”
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