Each year, Wilkes faces an attack from the flu. This year is no different. It marks another year Health Services must take precautions against the flu among the campus community.
During the first week of the year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 4,000 cases of the flu. The most recent data from Feb. 9 reported 1,000 cases. This year, Health Services reported less than 10 cases of the flu on campus compared to none last year.
Although there are a high number of cases this year, Dean of Students Mark Allen said this is not enough to cause major concern.
“We’ve developed policies with respect to potentially pandemic sorts of viruses, we’ve been fortunate in that we have not had large-spread outbreaks of any serious contagious disease,” Allen said.
Allen explained this year’s flu season had colleges across the country concerned because of how close proximity students have with each other, particularly if they reside on campus.
“There was a national concern for the strength of this year’s flu virus which prompted all institutions in higher education to be concerned about that, particularly residentially, because of the closeness by which college students are living, and also classroom settings, that lends itself well to the spreading of the virus,” Allen said.
Due to the flu season almost being over, Health Services does not expect many more cases. However, they still encourage students to take precautions to avoid sickness.
“First and foremost, hand-washing. It’s absolutely what keeps me from getting the flu after I’ve seen 35 kids that are sick,” Director of Health Services Diane O’Brien said. “Not sharing drinks, face towels, hand towels, cigarettes, stuff like that is really important.”
She said covering one’s mouth and disposing tissues properly are other ways to avoid spreading the flu.
“Covering your mouth, cough into your sleeve, dispose of tissues properly, don’t let tissues kind of lay around on coffee tables or bedside stands, they should be discarded,” O’Brien said. “It’s spread by droplets, so anything that your saliva could touch should not be shared.”
This year the CDC gave out 112 million doses of seasonal influenza vaccine, and they expect there to be more as well. Health services went through flu shots so quickly this semester they had to order a second package. Even though O’Brien said they only have five flu shots left, they still encourage students and faculty to get a flu shot in one of the many places offering the shot such as pharmacies, clinics or a private doctor.
Wilkes has a pandemic influenza policy which states that students should be aware of what the symptoms of the flu and seek help if they have the flu. It also states that students exhibiting symptoms of the flu are encouraged to go home or if they cannot, they will be provided housing separate from their normal residence hall. There they will be provided “essential goods and services” and their condition will be monitored.
Allen said the policy is stated on the MyWilkes portal and has been distributed via email over the course of the semester.
“We’ve sent out notices to students and have updated the portal this year with respect to where we felt we were at as a community regarding a number of cases and things that people could do to minimize their risk,” Allen said.
Allen said there is no way to measure how much impact Wilkes’ flu policy has on students but it makes them aware of better incentives.
“It’s hard to say what aspects of policy have the biggest impact,” Allen said. “The spirit of policy is just to make people aware of things that they could be doing, the behavioral approaches to minimizing risk.”