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UConn flu clinics may have helped prevent an epidemic this season

Published: Monday, February 3, 2014

Updated: Monday, February 3, 2014 23:02

With flu season now in full swing at UConn, Student Health Services Director Michael Kurland said that reported cases of the flu have been “steady” but not “overwhelming,” and that high turnouts at UConn-sponsored flu clinics in recent months could be helping to stave off an epidemic.

“We knew the flu was moving in because we had heard from the Health Department before students came back from break that people were testing positive for the flu throughout the state,” Kurland said. “And so we expected students to come back with the flu, and they have been.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of Jan. 25, Connecticut is one of 36 states in which flu activity is listed as “widespread,” which means that 50 percent of geographic regions or counties in a state have reported flu activity.

Kurland said that as of Jan. 20, Student Health Services had 47 cases of “flu-like illness” encoded into its system, a number that does not reflect more recent cases reported after students returned from winter break, nor the number of sick students who spoke to Student Health Services advice nurses on the phone.

“A significant number of students are coming in with flu symptoms, but I would not say it’s by any means an epidemic,” Kurland said.

Kurland said one possible explanation for the flu not reaching epidemic proportions was the record student turnout for free flu shot clinics sponsored by Student Health Services last Fall.

“This year the student response to flu shots that we give out in October and November was the highest that it’s ever been,” Kurland said. “We administered about 2,000 flu shots, and we gave them away for free.”

Kurland added that the number of flu shots administered by Student Health Services at its clinics is not indicative of the true number of students who received flu shots in recent months, as students could have also been immunized at a pharmacy, at their physician’s office or at SHS on a walk-in basis.

Kurland said that a high number of students receiving flu shots can often minimize the risk of contracting the virus for the entire population.

“We did notice that it was a much higher number of students who took advantage of the flu shots this year,” Kurland said. “We do believe that is mitigating the number of cases that are coming in.”

Kurland said he credited the elevated response to last fall’s flu shot clinics to more active and widespread social media campaigning on the part of UConn’s Student Health Outreach Team (SHOT), a student-led group that communicated on behalf of Student Health Services via Twitter, Facebook and the UConn Daily Digest.

“They did an awful lot of marketing – they tweeted, they put up Facebook pages, they were very active in terms of getting [the clinics] noticed, putting it out through residential life, reaching out to every single residential student,” Kurland said. “I have to give most of the credit to our students.”

Kurland said that although Student Health Services is encouraging students who have contracted the flu to go home, he and his team have been working with Residential Life to “identify housing alternatives” to accommodate either healthy students who have a sick roommates, or sick students who do not want to infect other students.

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