January 23, 2014

Flu Cases at Cornell Have Yet to Reach Peak Levels

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Although the Center for Disease Control recently released a report saying cases of the flu are at an “epidemic” level in the United States, Cornell has avoided being hit by the virus so far, according to Sharon Dittman, Gannett Health Service’s associate director for community relations. However, this delay could be due to the fact that most students just returned to campus.

Dittman said since the start of the spring semester, the number of flu cases at Gannett has been “quite low.”

“As the saying goes, ‘so far, so good’ when it comes to flu season at Cornell,” Dittman said.

However, Dittman said that since most students are not on campus over winter break, Cornell’s peak flu season usually takes place later than the rest of the country.

“The typical flu season at Cornell usually gets underway in late January or February, so it’s really too soon to tell whether flu activity that was widespread in the rest of the country in late December and early January will have an impact on the Cornell community as the semester gets underway,” she said.

Compared to other years, Cornell students may be in greater danger of the flu due to the nature of the spreading virus, according to Dittman. This year, the H1N1 strain — the same strain that caused swine flu in 2009 — is the “primary” cause of flu around the country, according to CBS News. Unlike the common flu strain, which mainly affects children and seniors, H1N1 targets 18-64 year-old adults.

Cornell’s young adult population has been hit hard by H1N1 in the past.

“In the 2009 to 2010 pandemic, Gannett diagnosed over 1,800 students with H1N1. People who tend to be sick include young and otherwise healthy adults,” Dittman said.

In addition to students being away from campus, the flu may not be hitting Cornell as hard as the rest of the country because community members have been taking preventative actions, according to Dittman.

“The Cornell community is very well-informed about and widely engaged in flu prevention strategies,” she said. “Frequent handwashing, use of alcohol-based hand cleaners, cleaning of shared surfaces and avoiding people who are sick are very common practices at Cornell, and they really do make a difference in cutting down on transmission of flu viruses.”

Vaccines have also helped protect the Cornell community from the flu, according to Dittman. Gannett has given 8,000 flu vaccines so far this season, Dittman said.

“Vaccination protects not only those who get vaccinated, but others as well,” she said.

Students who develop flu symptoms — muscle aches, high fever, coughing and fatigue — should stay home from class and get plenty of rest and liquids, according to Gannett’s website.

However, the website suggested that students who have an underlying health condition or develop more serious symptoms such as vomiting, shortness of breath, dizziness or significantly high fevers should see a doctor immediately.

Dittman said although Gannett is not currently seeing many cases of the flu, people are still sick with other related illnesses — including colds, coughs and sore throats.

“Almost all of these illnesses can be transmitted to others before a person even knows they are sick,” said Dittman. “This is a good time to take especially good care of yourself and take precautions around other people.”