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Emory takes steps to prevent, respond to flu cases on campus

Emory University’s Student Health Services has reported treating 193 cases of influenza and influenza-type illness since Jan. 1, 2018 — a higher number of cases than recent flu seasons, but consistent with numbers being reported on other area campuses and within the community, state and nation.

“We are in no way unique — it’s a very aggressive flu season nationally,” says Michael Huey, assistant vice president and executive director of Emory’s Student Health and Counseling Services. “The cases we’ve seen this year are significantly higher than our numbers in the two to three previous years.”

In comparison, in 2017, Emory’s Student Health Services saw 27 cases of flu or flu-like illness from Jan. 1 through mid-February. In 2016, 20 cases were seen, and in 2015, 89 cases were seen from Jan. 1 through mid-February.

“While this is our most common time for the flu season, it’s not always like that,” Huey says. “Flu doesn’t always peak at the same time on the Emory campus, but it does tend to accelerate when students return after the holiday break.”

Traditionally, flu season peaks at Emory during the first six weeks of a new calendar year. As of this week, the number of reported cases of students seen for the flu at the Student Health Center appears to have topped out, Huey says, noting that students who live off campus or were seen by other health care providers are not reflected in his numbers.

“Although our numbers have dropped, it doesn’t mean there won’t be another peak,” he cautions. “There very well could be, and it wouldn’t be unusual. It’s really important for people to continue staying home when ill, washing their hands, using hand sanitizer, wiping down common surfaces and covering coughs.” 

Every year, Emory Student Health offers a series of Monday-through-Friday drop-in flu vaccine clinics for students, which run from the first week of October through the end of final exams in December. 

“We gave well over 2,500 influenza vaccine doses to Emory students this year,” Huey says. “When we came back after the holiday break, we knew the flu was ramping up and it looked like a serious year. So we offered two additional flu shot clinics and served another 150 students.”

“In addition, we know that many Emory students also get vaccinated at home during breaks or at other local clinics, pharmacies and urgent care centers,” he adds. 

Although it is not too late to receive a flu shot, Huey notes that the vaccine is becoming harder to come by, as only a certain supply is created each year. Student Health Services is projected to run out of its allotment, plus additional borrowed vaccine from Emory Healthcare, within the next one to two days, he says. 

However, those who can find the vaccine elsewhere should seriously consider getting it, he urged. 

“With this year’s circulating influenza viruses, people are still able to get partial protection through the vaccine, and some protection is definitely better than none. Those vaccinated patients who still get influenza are less sick and will be less likely to spread the virus,” he says. 

In the meantime, the campus remains vigilant and focused on prevention. The following measures have been taken by Emory’s Student Health Services and on campus:

Student Health Services

  • A weekly message was added to the Student Health Services website, which pops up when patients are making appointments to alert them of the outbreak and to limit non-urgent care traffic to the office.
  • An all-student campus email was sent reviewing prevention and care of Influenza.
  • Scheduling was adjusted to accommodate the influx of ill students. 
  • The waiting room has been strategically divided into “well” and “sick” sections.
  • Every student entering the office is offered/recommended to wear a mask. Increased use of masks by providers and staff as well.
  • Social media posts review prevention and management of the flu, including how to minimize spread.
  • Cleaning procedures have been enhanced throughout the office, including the waiting room.
  • Flu prevention and treatment slides are embedded within the slide show on the waiting room monitor and on monitors on campus.
  • Two flu clinics were added as the outbreak started, and we have supported continued flu vaccinations daily through the immunization nurse visits or during a scheduled provider visit.

Emory University campus:

  • A message was sent out to all faculty and staff with guidelines to manage the outbreak. 
  • Targeted messages were sent to fraternities and sororities during rush week. 
  • Collaboration was undertaken by the provost’s office and the faculty to support the flu policy so ill students will stay out of the classroom.
  • Enhanced cleaning efforts are ongoing in high traffic and high-risk locations, such as dining facilities. 
  • Hand sanitizer 2L bottles have been strategically placed in the top 20 locations throughout campus.
  • Weekly monitoring of the number of flu cases in all facilities is continuing.

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