2018 Influenza Season

January 12, 2018

To: The Rensselaer Community
From: Leslie Lawrence, M.D., Executive Director, Rensselaer Student Health Center
Re: 2018 Influenza Season

At the beginning of the influenza season last semester, we noted more than our usual cases of influenza among the student body at Rensselaer. Authorities have been monitoring the flu season in the Southern Hemisphere as an indicator of what we might expect for the remainder of the flu season here in the North. Data from Australia reveal record-high numbers of influenza related, in part to, a mismatch between the vaccine and this year's predominant flu strain (Influenza A - H3N2). Given that the 2017-2018 U.S. vaccine is identical to the vaccine used in Australia, which has been estimated to be only 10 percent effective against H3N2, it is possible that we will experience significantly more influenza cases this season.

As the spring 2018 semester begins, it is important that students, faculty, and staff have the latest information on influenza and are prepared for what will likely be a challenging flu season.

Influenza viruses are spread from person to person in the respiratory droplets of coughs and sneezes. Droplets from a cough or sneeze of an infected person are propelled through the air and deposited on the mouth or nose of people nearby. Influenza viruses may also be spread when a person touches respiratory droplets on another person or an object and then touches their own mouth or nose (or someone else's mouth or nose) before washing their hands. To prevent the spread of influenza viruses, follow these healthy habits:

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with the inside of your elbow if you do not have a tissue.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.

In addition, if you are in close contact with a potentially, or known, infected person:

  • Remind the sick person to cover their coughs, and clean their hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub often, especially after coughing and/or sneezing.
  • Wash your hands often, using soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Use paper towels for drying hands after hand washing.
  • Have the sick person wear a surgical mask if they need to be in a common area of the house near other persons.
  • Follow the "yard stick rule" - remain three feet or more from the ill person.

Another critical part of prevention is to ask students, faculty, and staff to stay home and away from others should they develop flu-like symptoms (i.e., fever of 100 degrees F/37.8 degrees C or higher, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, fatigue, and, rarely, diarrhea and vomiting).

All students with symptoms of the flu (i.e., fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, fatigue, and, rarely, diarrhea and vomiting) should arrange an appointment with our medical staff at the Student Health Center. There, they will be examined for influenza. All appointments are free to Rensselaer students.

For more information, see www.cdc.gov and www.health.state.ny.us. Updates will be issued as information becomes available.