SHS sees dramatic decrease in flu cases

The Student Health Service reported seeing just eight cases of influenza-like illness since the beginning of 2010, compared to a full 800 cases last semester, a University administrator said this week.

Influenza-like illnesses have dropped dramatically this semester, said Dr. Isabel Goldenberg, director of SHS. Goldenberg, who has worked at SHS for more than 25 years, said she is not surprised by the decline of influenza cases this semester.

“I was expecting lower numbers of cases,” Goldenberg said in an e-mail. “Part of the population that was susceptible had already had it and the rest of the population had been immunized so your susceptible group is much less now.”

Dr. Robert Shesser, director of the Emergency Department at GW Hospital, said cases of influenza-like illness have been almost completely absent from the department since December.

He attributed the widespread decline to the timing of last year’s swine flu outbreak.

“I think the usual winter influenza cycle was modified this year by the emergence of H1N1 in the spring, 2009,” Shesser said in an e-mail, adding that the availability of H1N1 vaccinations also likely played a role in the severe decline.

Over the course of the fall semester, SHS distributed nearly 4,000 influenza vaccinations to GW community members, free of charge for those under the age of 24. Student demand for the vaccine was high last semester, and at one point SHS administered 1,800 vaccines in two hours.

Although hundreds of cases were reported throughout the semester, Goldenberg said September was the worst month for the virus on campus, with 40 to 50 new cases reported daily.

Students on campus said they have noticed the downward trend in H1N1 cases since last semester, although many said they were unconcerned with the virus to begin with – even at its peak.

Freshman Kate Noble said she got the virus during sorority recruitment in the fall, and likely infected several other students due to the number of recruitment activities that involved mingling in large groups. Despite this, Noble felt students did not take the swine flu very seriously.

“I think my friends’ parents were worried about it but I don’t really feel like any of my friends were worried,” she said.

Although freshman Debbie Khoukhachvili was exposed to H1N1 through several of her friends who had the virus in the fall, she managed to avoid the flu, which she feels reflects the media’s exaggeration of swine flu.

“All of my best friends had it and I took care of them and I was fine,” she said. “I think it was a little too much hype.”

Despite the noted decline in cases of influenza-like illness, Goldenberg still advised students to take precautions against becoming infected with the virus.

“The perception of the public is that there is no more risk, however, it is of course better to obtain the vaccine,” Goldenberg said. “That is the best way of prevention.”

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