Utensils and cups in the dining hall, computers in the library, and equipment in the gym. College students use many objects in a day that can be crawling with millions of bacterium, and chances are, at least one of the germs is a carrier of influenza.
The flu has become a nationwide epidemic that is said to affect the elderly and those with underlying conditions the most, but due to the living quarters of college students, they too have to be extra cautious with their hygiene habits.
“Persons living in close quarters with others have a greater chance of exposure to contagious illnesses. That is why annual flu vaccination is especially important on a college campus,” the College’s Janice Vermeychuk, director of Student Health said.
According to Vermeychuk, as of Monday morning, Student Health Services (SHS) had one laboratory-confirmed case of influenza in just the first week of the spring semester. During last year’s school year, there were only two cases of the flu reported, the first one being confirmed in March.
“We expect these numbers to rise this week and in weeks to follow as students congregate in class, residence halls and in social settings,” Vermeychuk said.
According to the CDC, some states are seeing a decline in the amount of flu cases, however, N.J. is not one of them. N.J. Along with 25 other states, is still considered to have high flu-like activity. In fact, N.J. is showing an increase in flu-like illnesses in emergency rooms, according to the N.J. Department of Health and Senior Services. With more than 15 percent of its patients entering the emergency room with flu-like illnesses, Mercer County is reporting the highest level of residents with flu-like symptoms in the state.
To reduce the incidence of influenza in the College’s community, SHS, along with Sodexo dining services, the School of Nursing and Residential Education and Housing, collaborated in making the campus more clean and students less susceptible to contracting the flu, according to Vermeychuk.
“SHS, in conjunction with the School of Nursing, provides three flu vaccination clinics for students, staff and faculty each fall. Students who were unable to come to these clinics were invited by email to schedule an appointment in SHS for flu vaccination. In all, 800 students were vaccinated during the fall semester,” Vermeychuk said.
“Building Services has enhanced the daily sanitation of touchable surfaces, such as door knobs, handrails and elevator buttons. Sanitizing wipes have been inventoried and restocked in all computer labs. SHS partners with Sodexo and REH to distribute educational advertising reminding students, staff and faculty to “Cover their Cough” and wash their hands. These signs/flyers and electronic messages have been distributed throughout residence halls and dining facilities on campus. Residential students who are sick with the flu can order food using Sodexo’s “Sick Tray” Program,” Vermeychuk said.
“When the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported in early January that the flu season was anticipated to be severe, an email was sent to students, staff and faculty, as well as to the parent listserv (email list), emphasizing the importance of getting a flu shot before returning to campus,” Vermeychuk said.
According to the CDC, as of Jan. 18, 133.5 million doses of the influenza vaccine had been distributed. And though the likelihood of the vaccine protecting someone from the flu virus is 62 percent, the CDC says it is still the most effective way to reduce the chances of contracting the flu.
Vermeychuk agrees getting vaccinated every year can reduce one’s chance of getting and contracting the flu.
“When more people get vaccinated against the flu, less flu illness can spread through a community,” Vermeychuk said. “We all have a civic responsibility to do our part to protect others in the community who at high risk of flu complications! This means getting an annual flu shot and staying home if sick.”
Vermeychuk also listed several other ways in which students can ensure that they play a part in reducing the chance of spreading the flu as much as possible.
“According to the CDC, people with flu can spread it to others up to about six feet away in respiratory droplets made when coughing, talking and sneezing. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Less often, a person might also get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth or nose,” Vermeychuk said. “To avoid this, stay away from sick people and stay home if sick until you are fever-free for 24 hours. This should be determined without the use of fever-reducing medications. It also is important to wash hands frequently with plain soap and water. If soap and water are unavailable, use a hand sanitizer such as Purell.”
If a student feels as though they have the flu, he or she can receive medical attention from Student Health Services Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday from 8:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and on Thursday and Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Students should bring their medical insurance card and prescription insurance card when visiting the Student Health Services.
“Students with flu-like symptoms who are seen by a SHS healthcare provider are examined and educated about how to treat their symptoms, how to reduce the spread of flu to others, and how to recognize the signs and symptoms of worsening illness that requires emergency medical treatment,” Vermeychuk said. “Depending on when symptoms began and the presence of medical conditions that can complicate the flu, some students may receive a prescription for an antiviral medicine such as Tamiflu. Because influenza is a viral illness, antibiotics don’t work.”