Just three weeks into the semester, physicians have already diagnosed three times as many students with influenza-related illness as they had this time in 2017 and five times as many as in 2016, Cornell Health said.
The current flu season, which began around late December, is reportedly “the worst in nearly a decade,” according to The New York Times. For the past six weeks, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has designated the flu epidemic as “widespread” in almost all 50 states.
In accordance with the national trend, Cornell Health has seen “a higher volume of people with flu this year,” according to Dr. Anne Jones ’04, director of Medical Services at Cornell Health. Jones previously said, during the first week of the semester, that the number of students affected this year was only “modest.”
“We know from the experience of our medical department and pharmacy, as well as reports of flu activity from campus partners that the flu has been prevalent in the Cornell community,” said Sharon Dittman, director of community relations at Cornell Health, in an email to The Sun.
After a two-day shortage of flu vaccines last month, Jones said Cornell Health currently has an “adequate supply” of vaccines and suggested that the entire Cornell community get vaccinated as soon as possible.
“We recommend a flu shot for everyone, including those who have already had the flu,” Jones said. “Having had one strain of influenza does not protect you if you get another strain of influenza.”
The pharmacy at Cornell Health also has sufficient stocks of over-the-counter and prescription antiviral medications for those who require them, according to Jones.
Dittman said Cornell Health has also adjusted the medical appointments system in order to see sick students more promptly. These adjustments include a flexible staffing system that stations clinicians where they are needed the most — on the phone if more people call for advice or in their offices if more people choose to visit.
“Patients with influenza-like illnesses who need appointments are seen within 24 hours,” Dittman added. “Anyone who required immediate care has been seen within one to two hours.”
According to Dittman, physicians will also reach out to students when outside medical facilities, such as Cayuga Medical Center, notify Cornell Health of their flu-related medical records.
Sometimes students choose to seek medical treatment off-campus, especially when they feel sick early in the morning, as some medical facilities have earlier hours than Cornell Health does.
“The urgent care [at Cayuga Medical Center] opens at 7 a.m. and I woke up with a fever at 5:30 a.m.,” William Pascocello ’20 said. “So I went there instead of going to Cornell Health, which doesn’t open till 10 a.m. on Wednesdays.”
Pascocello said he had to stay at home for three days. Even though it affected his school work, he thinks it’s a wise decision to make despite the “rigorous academic environment” at Cornell.
“Sickness can drag out for two weeks if you don’t take a rest and address it in the moment,” he said. “But assignments can always be made up and problems with professors can be resolved. Taking those few days to address a health issue swiftly is worth the absences in my opinion.”
Dittman recommends that students check the influenza fact sheet and flu self-care guide when common symptoms like sore throat and fever start to show, as “some flu-like illness can be well-managed with self-care.”
Jones asked sick students to stay home to “recover and keep your germs to yourself.” She also recommended that every every member of the Cornell community wash hands frequently, stay hydrated and get adequate sleep.