January 24, 2013

Gannett Health Services Gives Record Number of Flu Vaccinations

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As New York State braces for an intense flu season, declaring a statewide public health emergency, Gannett Health Services vaccinated a record number of students, staff and faculty, causing its stock of flu vaccines to run out Tuesday.

Although hospitalizations have been seen throughout the state as a result of this year’s flu, Gannett has not yet seen any serious cases of flu, according to Heather Stone, public health communications specialist at Gannett.

“The good news on our campus is that we estimate about half of our population has been vaccinated — the most yet compared to any other year,” Stone said.

Although Gannett has tried to order additional vaccines, it has had difficulty replenishing its supply so far, according to Sharon Dittman, associate director for community relations at Gannett.

“We’ve been calling suppliers every day to order more vaccines, but the supply is running out across the country,” Dittman said. “There has been so much publicity [around the flu] that people really have been lining up to get vaccinated, so what’s left of the national supply is harder and harder to get.”

In addition to seeing more students getting vaccinated, Gannett has also started seing more students reporting flu-like symptoms. From Jan. 1 to Jan. 22 of last year, Gannett saw a total of two students with flu-like symptoms. In comparison, 65 students reported flu-like symptoms during the same time frame this year, according to Stone.

“People who get flu can feel really awful,” Dittman said. “We recommend resting at home, drinking lots of fluids and taking over-the-counter medicines to control your symptoms.”

As students came back for the new semester, and for fraternity and sorority recruitment, many realized that being together with other students also exacerbated the spread of disease. Rachel Saltzman ‘15 said that although she is not personally sick, being cooped up in her sorority house with the other girls during rush caused everyone else to fall ill.

“We were all stuck in the house for a week; it was way too much time indoors,” Saltzman said. “That’s what caused everyone to become sick in the first place.”

Joanie Kim ’15, also said sorority rush was a contributing factor to her catching the flu.

“Rush week definitely perpetuated the spreading of flu, hence how I couldn’t escape it. Shaking hands with and talking within extremely close proximity to tens and tens of girls after screaming your lungs out doesn’t exactly boost your immune system,” she said.

In response to widespread concerns about the flu season, Cornell has taken some extra measures such as sending out a university-wide email with information about how to prevent the spread of disease and how to care for yourself and others in the event of illness.

The university-wide email also notified students that flu kits — which contain supplies to aid recovery from the disease, including cough drops and fever-reducing medicine — were available for purchase at multiple locations on campus.

Gannett was not the only local health service provider to face a shortage of flu vaccines this year. Tompkins County Health Department also ran out of vaccines, according to Theresa Lyczko, public information officer and director of the health promotion program at Tompkins County Health Department.

“We estimate that probably about 30 percent of the population in Tompkins County were vaccinated,” Lyczko said.

The flu that has predominated this year was the H3N2 strain of influenza A, which was last seen five to nine years ago, according to the Gannett website.

“When a long period of time goes by and people are not exposed to a certain strain of flu, our immunity to that strain wanes,” Stone said. “This could be the reason we are seeing more flu activity than usual.”

As the flu season continues, Dittman stressed that students should not hesitate to use Gannett as a resource to address questions or concerns they have about their health or about taking care of their illness.

If you are really sick, have other health conditions or you just want advice, start with a phone call to Gannett – any time of day or night, Dittman said. “A nurse can talk with you about your symptoms, and offer guidance about whether you need medical attention or how best to take care of yourself at home,” Dittman said.

Original Author: Jinjoo Lee