August 26, 2010

Gannett Prepares for Flu Season

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While H1N1 influenza is no longer considered a pandemic, with only three cases identified at Gannett this summer, the University will continue to monitor the virus and encourage flu preparedness in the coming months.

According to Heather Stone, Gannett public health communications specialist, 1,790 cases of probable H1N1 influenza were diagnosed at Gannett between August 17, 2009, and August 16, 2010. But since the start of the spring 2010 semester, only 100 new likely cases of H1N1 have been identified at the University.

A press conference held by the World Health Organization on August 10, 2010, declared that the H1N1 virus is officially no longer a pandemic, with no out-of-season outbreaks reported in the northern or southern hemispheres.

“The world is no longer in phase 6 of influenza pandemic alert. We are now moving into the post-pandemic period. The new H1N1 virus has largely run its course,” said Margaret Chan, director-general of WHO, at the press conference. According to the WHO website, phase 6 of influenza pandemic alert exists when the flu virus “has caused sustained community level outbreaks” in at least two regions throughout the world.

Theresa Lyczko, Tompkins County Health Department public information officer, said that she expects this coming flu season to return to normal.

“This fall we anticipate that the flu season will be similar to ones in the past — those prior to the advent of H1N1,” Lyczko stated in an e-mail.

The H1N1 virus spread rapidly throughout the Cornell campus this time last year.

Steven Arias ’11 had a severe case of H1N1 influenza in August 2009 immediately after returning to campus.

“[H1N1] put me behind really badly. I had to miss every single first class that I had,” Arias said.  “My biggest concern is trying to not get sick and taking as many precautions as I can.”

While H1N1 seems to have subsided, the strain has not completely disappeared.

“As we enter the post-pandemic period, this does not mean that the H1N1 virus has gone away. Based on experience with past pandemics, we expect the H1N1 virus to take on the behavior of a seasonal influenza virus and continue to circulate for some years to come,” Chan said.

Due to this concern, Stone explained that this year’s seasonal flu vaccine contains three different viruses to protect individuals against the flu, including H1N1, the influenza A strain H3N2 and an influenza B strain.

Aligned with the recommendations of the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Tompkins County Health Department, Gannett will continue to promote increased vigilance, surveillance and vaccination.

Stone explained that Gannett is working on a robust flu campaign with messages that emphasize the use of good hygiene factors and vaccination. Gannett is also planning to increase the number of flu vaccine clinics offered beginning in September, which is earlier than in previous years. The pharmacy is also currently selling thermometers and flu kits, encouraging students to be prepared before an illness might set in.

“We’re hoping it’s going to be a typical or more regular flu season, but we’re continuing to monitor the situation,” Stone said.

Original Author: Jamie Meyerson