Dumb Luck or Smart People?

My near-classmate, Mark F. Bernstein ’83, wrote an article in the latest issue of Princeton Alumni Weekly, examining the impact of the great flu pandemic of 1918 on the Princeton campus.  The short version: the deadly epidemic that killed fifty-nine University of Michigan students and 32 Princeton town residents, killed no one on the Princeton campus.  Probable reason for this success: aggressive isolation of all persons with even mild respiratory symptoms for the duration of their illness, and restrictions on students attending public events with uncontrolled attendance.

This year’s flu is coming. We have had only 2 confirmed positive tests so far, but it is early in the season, with low (sporadic) flu activity reported by the CDC and the Google flu tracker.  This year’s decreased flu compared to previous years may be due to increasing use of Flumist, a more effective vaccine in stopping flu transmission (injectable flu still appears to be better at preventing complications in high-risk individuals), or perhaps less crowding in stores due to recession and online shopping, but this cannot be expected to remain so.  In addition to encouraging further vaccination, I would like to ask responsible education professionals to be less diligent in enforcing attendance requirements.  Staying home is still the best way to avoid transmitting the flu in schools, and people are just as contagious in the prodromal (sniffles only, no fever or aches) stage as when they are shaking with chills.