Widgets Magazine

Vaden warns of possible flu spike

Though Vaden Health Center has been seeing cases of influenza for several months now, national and state trends are showing a potential spike in infections this month. Both local and federal health departments are warning citizens to protect themselves against the virus, and the Stanford campus is no different.

“Peak flu time can occur in winter or in spring,” Leigh Stacy, Associate Director of Vaden Health Center, stated in an email to The Daily. “The local health department is warning that we may be seeing an increase in cases in the coming weeks.”

Stacy explained that while this year Stanford’s flu cases have been average so far, it is hard to predict when an outbreak will occur. Since winter break, the rate of cases coming into Vaden has increased.

Vaden’s most effective way of preventing flu outbreaks is through its assiduous vaccination campaign, which began in October and targets students and University staff members alike. Free flu vaccinations were available at most dining halls throughout the fall as well as at Vaden Health Center.

For the 2013-2014 academic year, Vaden Health Center and the “Flu Crew” of medical professionals administered 3,987 influenza vaccinations. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s website, the effectiveness of the vaccine that year was an average of 62 percent.

According to a press release from the CDC this month, however, that percentage will be much lower this year due to the prevalence of the H3N2 influenza virus, which the vaccination is not as effective at preventing. The last time this virus was the dominant strain was in 2007-2008, and vaccinations were only 37 percent effective.

“While the vaccine’s ability to protect against drifted H3N2 viruses this season may be reduced, we are still strongly recommending vaccination,” advised Joseph Brese, Chief of the Influenza Epidemiology and Prevention Branch at the CDC. “Vaccination has been found to provide some protection against drifted viruses in past seasons. Also, vaccination will offer protection against other flu viruses that may become more common later in the season.”

Students and staff who have not yet received the vaccination can still get one at Vaden Health Center on campus.

But once a student comes down with the flu, there isn’t much Vaden can do to help.

Isabella Cai ’18 came down with what Vaden workers told her was likely the flu during fall quarter. She was not given antivirals but told to go home and take ibuprofen and get some rest.

Cai was frustrated but said she understood why antivirals are not given out to every single patient. Antivirals are becoming less and less effective due to their widespread use in many developed countries and thus are not recommended in mild cases.

“I would have done the exact same thing if I had gone [to Vaden] or if I had self medicated,” Cai said. “There was no reason to even go.”

Stacy, however, recommends students in one of the high-risk categories for flu complications (such as a history of asthma, immune system issues, diabetes and/or heart disease, American Indian and Alaskan Native heritage, pregnancy, morbid obesity, or some other chronic illness, etc.), to “contact Vaden at the first sign of flu illness (fever, body aches, fatigue, cough, etc.).”

“We will likely recommend treatment,” Stacy stated. Vaden does sometimes prescribe antivirals like Tamiflu, but the decision “is based on the individual patient.

“Stay away from people who are ill; don’t share glasses, food, utensils, cell phones, etc,” Stacy recommended.

“Try to stay healthy; get rest and eat well,” she continued. “Keep hands clean and do not touch your face unless your hands are clean. To help reduce spread, students who are ill should isolate themselves as much as possible (stay home from class, get meals in their room, etc.) and refrain from participating in any sports or group activities until well (no fever). Covering a cough properly is also instrumental in containing spread.”

The Santa Clara County Department of Health has a flier for college students who are faced with a flu outbreak. The Department echoes much of Stacy’s advice and adds, “Sing the ‘Happy Birthday’ song twice while washing your hands.”

Students who think they may have the flu should monitor themselves carefully, Stacy advised.

“In general, any student who feels very ill or can’t manage symptoms should call the Vaden Health Center advice nurse at 650-498-2336 for guidance, or make an appointment to see a provider (can be done via the web). For more urgent situations, it’s best just to come right in.”

Contact Elizabeth Wallace at wallacee ‘at’ stanford.edu.

About Elizabeth Wallace

Liz Wallace, class of 2018, is a reporter for the Stanford Daily with a love for environmental science, literature, and late night discussions over mugs of hot chocolate. Wallace hails from Winston-Salem, North Carolina and can be contacted at wallacee@stanford.edu.