Health center closely monitoring influenza on campus and global coronavirus outbreak

Courtesy of CDC.gov

The FSU Health Center is taking precautions to prevent the spread of influenza.

Health Center Director Ilene Hofrenning said there were “around 20 students” who visited the health center with flu-like symptoms during the fall semester.

During the spring semester, she said there have only been “a couple” of visitors who had symptoms of the flu with negative test results.

Framingham State has participated in the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) statewide influenza surveillance system for about 10 years, according to Hofrenning. 

The surveillance system collects flu data from participating health centers, hospitals, and urgent care centers in Massachusetts in an effort to stop the spread of the virus.

Hofrenning said, “Every week, we send in the number of visits that we see, and the number of influenza-like illnesses.”

She added the health center sends specimens from flu tests conducted on campus which the DPH tests to determine which type of flu is potentially on campus and the severity of the strain.

In Massachusetts, the flu severity level from Sept. 29 to Jan. 18 was “high,” and included 15,000-20,000 emergency room visits for flu-like symptoms, according to the DPH. Around 2,000-3,000 of these patients were hospitalized.

Hofrenning said FSU takes serious measures in an effort to prevent a pandemic on campus by monitoring sick students as closely as possible.

“It’s hard to predict the flu,” she added. “You never know what type it is going to be, how severe it is going to be, or what trajectory it’s going to take.”

She added students who are sick with the flu are encouraged to go home. 

Students who are unable to return home are encouraged to stay in their dorm rooms. Those who live in buildings without private bathrooms must wear masks when using the public bathrooms to prevent spreading the virus. The University will also arrange for the Dining Commons to deliver food to rooms.

In the 15 years Hofrenning has been at FSU, the worst strain of flu she has seen was the H1N1 (swine flu) outbreak in fall 2009. 

Hofrenning said the virus tends to “really hit younger people,” targeting the primary population at FSU. 

She added the Health Center saw around 100-150 cases of the flu during the H1N1 outbreak.

Coronavirus Outbreak

Hofrenning said the University is also staying vigilant in response to the recent global Coronavirus outbreak.

The 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) was first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, and rapidly spread across the globe.

According to the CDC, there are 28 countries with confirmed cases of 2019-nCoV as of Feb. 6.  

As The Gatepost was going to press, there have been 28,275 cases and 565 deaths globally, according to CNN.

There have been 11 confirmed cases of 2019-nCoV in the United States. States with confirmed cases include Arizona, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Washington. 

The first and only confirmed case of 2019-nCoV in Massachusetts was a UMass Boston student who recently traveled to the Wuhan region, according to DPH.

There are several strains of coronaviruses that cause mild symptoms, but severe historic outbreaks include the SARS outbreak of 2003 as well as the MERS outbreak of 2012, said Hofrenning.

She said FSU is in close contact with the DPH and is following recommendations from the CDC and the American College Health Association (ACHA).

“There is a lot we don’t know about it. We just have to monitor, keep track, and be vigilant,” Hofrenning said.

FSU Students Abroad

Virginia Noon, a fashion design and retailing professor, led a group of five travelers to study Chinese culture and fashion business in China from Jan. 2-16. 

Noon said the group visited cultural sites in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. The group did not travel to Wuhan or the Hubei province.

There was “no common knowledge or evidence of the emerging virus” during the study tour, Noon added.

“In China, people commonly wear a face mask to protect from industrial pollution.  It was interesting to note that I only saw a few people wearing masks during our travel, which for me, was a sign that the general air quality was improving,” Noon said.

She added the virus was not mentioned in the news until the group arrived back to the U.S.

Health Center Director Hofrenning said FSU contacted all students who participated in the study tour, as well as any Chinese students who may have traveled back home during winter break.

Hofrenning said all the individuals who traveled to China did not experience any flu-like symptoms upon their return.

The incubation period for 2019-nCoV is 14 days, she said.

“If they haven’t developed symptoms now, the chance of them developing symptoms is very, very low,” Hofrenning said.

Senior Tayah DuBois went on the trip and planned to stay in China for the duration of the spring semester.

DuBois said she had one internship in Guangzhou and another one in Hong Kong.

“I ended up not being able to do either,” she said. “It was kind of my decision.”

DuBois said she went to Vietnam with her friend for the Chinese New Year for a few days before the outbreak was made public by the press. 

“I was travelling with a Chinese friend who was closely watching the news progress and basically, he was like, ‘I know you’re meant to go back to China, but I don’t really think you should,’” DuBois said.

She added that when the news of the outbreak began to spread across the world, her parents called her.

“A couple of days went by and it was just getting worse and worse. My folks got really anxious, and I decided to book a flight back home,” DuBois said. “It’s so much better to be safe than sorry.” 

Health Center Response

FSU encourages anyone with flu symptoms to make an appointment at the Health Center to get evaluated for influenza and strep throat.

Hofrenning said flu-like symptoms include a fever, sore throat, and cough. Individuals with chronic diseases such as asthma and diabetes, as well as those who take medication that may compromise the immune system are more likely to suffer complications from the flu, such as pneumonia.

Junior Roberto Carvalhaes said he is not worried about contracting the flu.

“I take good care of myself. For people who get easily sick, they should make sure their immunizations are up to date because it will not only take care of themselves, but it would take care of others around them,” he said.  

Carvalhaes said he also isn’t too concerned about the threat of Coronavirus on campus. 

“I believe the students here are responsible enough and mature enough to make sure that if that issue was to happen, it would quickly be contained and taken care of,” he added.

Junior Caroline Lanni disagreed and said she is concerned about a pandemic coming to FSU.

“Of course I’m scared. The flu is everywhere – anyone can get it,” she said.

Hofrenning said the strategies for preventing Coronavirus are the same as for the flu: avoid contact with people with flu-like symptoms, avoid touching face/mouth area, cough into sleeve, thoroughly wash hands with soap and water, and use hand sanitizer.

The Health Center encourages the entire FSU community to get the flu vaccine as early as possible. 

The closest vaccination location to FSU is CVS Pharmacy at 1280 Worcester Rd and is open 24 hours. Health insurance generally covers the entire cost of the vaccine. 

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