Signs that Thon is only days away can be seen all over downtown State College.
Stores like McLanahan’s on East College Avenue have selections of brightly colored socks, fanny packs and bandanas displayed near the front, while students buzz in and out, doing last-minute shopping before the 46-hour dance marathon to raise money in the battle against pediatric cancer.
But what also can be noticed on a stroll down College Avenue, right across from Penn State’s campus, is people walking with tissues in hand, coughing and blowing their noses.
Winter is prime time for people to get sick, and the flu has been especially bad this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with the respiratory infection being widespread throughout 48 states.
Four different strains of the flu — A/H3N2, A/H1N1, B/Yamagata lineage, and B/Victoria lineage — have been seen on campus, according to Shelley Haffner, the infectious disease manager for Penn State’s University Health Services.
In addition to the flu, four cases of the mumps have also been confirmed on campus.
“We are continuing to see high levels of flu on campus, well above baseline levels,” Haffner said.
The prevalence of the flu on campus could cause issues with Thon right around the corner.
Since children undergoing chemotherapy treatments have weakened immune systems — as do students who are forgoing sleep for two days to help raise money for those kids and their families — people who are feeling sick are encouraged to not attend.
“We ask that anyone who has been diagnosed or is experiencing the onset of any flu-like symptoms stay home and do not come to Thon, so as to not compromise your own health further or put any others at risk,” said Haley Staub, public relations director for Thon. “Any Thon volunteers who are found to be ill will be sent home immediately.”
Common symptoms of the flu, according to Haffner, include fever, chills, sore throat, cough, headache, body aches and fatigue. Those infected might also experience nasal congestion, runny nose and sneezing.
We need to protect the Four Diamonds’ kids and their families. After all, isn’t that what Thon is all about?
Shelley Haffner, infectious disease manager for Penn State’s University Health Services
Haffner said those feeling any of the symptoms should self-isolate and avoid contact with others, cover all coughs and sneezes with a tissue and dispose of the tissue immediately, get plenty of rest and drink plenty of fluids, use over-the-counter medications to treat the symptoms, and stay at home until fever-free for 24 hours without the use of a fever-reducing medication.
“A person is considered infectious until 24 hours after fever has resolved without the use of fever-reducing medications,” she said. “Flu is also infectious for 24 hours before symptoms develop.”
But for dancers, volunteers and those who just want to stop by the Bryce Jordan Center this weekend to check out the event or support those involved, there are precautionary measures they can take to ensure they’re feeling healthy.
“We encourage people to be aware of their surroundings, wash their hands, and do not share food or drink with others, regardless of whether they are feeling sick or not,” Staub said. “Especially for dancers, we encourage them to get at least eight hours of sleep a night heading into the weekend, regularly exercise and stretch, and maintain a healthy diet.”
Although sometimes even the most diligent adherence to precautions isn’t enough to stave off infection. Those who do find themselves in that boat are not completely out of luck, Staub said.
“If you cannot make it to Thon for any reason, all of the energy and excitement is still at your fingertips,” she said.
Thon will be livestreamed in its entirety by 46LIVE and can be viewed at https://thon.org/livestream.
“Since flu is still prevalent in our community and widespread across Pennsylvania, I’m hoping people will think twice before attending Thon if they are ill or have had close contact with someone who currently has the flu,” Haffner said. “We need to protect the Four Diamonds’ kids and their families. After all, isn’t that what Thon is all about?”
Despite the threat of flu, the show will go on this weekend.
“We hope that through precautionary measures and spreading awareness for the flu and its symptoms, effects on the event will be minimized,” Staub said.
The warnings are becoming familiar. Not only is February typically prime flu season, another mumps outbreak prompted warnings in 2017, norovirus hit right before the 2016 Thon and exposure to chicken pox impacted the 2015 event.
The annual dance marathon to raise money for the Four Diamonds Fund kicks off at 6 p.m. Friday and lasts until 4 p.m. Sunday.