Last year the flu hit Texas Wesleyan hard, starting in athletics and building up to 52 cases on campus.
Wesleyan had even smaller class sizes, do not enter signs plastered all over buildings, and a rush to get more hand sanitizing stations available around campus as a result.
“Last year we had 52 cases which doesn’t sound like a lot, but for a campus this size that’s a lot,” Director of Health Services Anice Lewis-Hollins said.
According to the CDC, there were 30.9 million people with cases of the flu, 14.5 million people that went to health care providers for the flu, and 600,000 people hospitalized with the flu last year in the United States. This number could have been minimized if more working age adults had gotten their vaccination. Adults under 65 have the lowest rate of getting their flu shots.
With flu season beginning this month, Wesleyan has been working to minimize the damage with getting the word out, providing free flu shots, and filling hand-sanitizing stations throughout campus.
“I think last year the word got out much later and we were more reacting to especially what happened to the football team and athletics,” risk manager Juan Azcarate said. “I think it was more of a reactive situation last year and this year we’re trying to be more proactive with getting the word out.”
Azcarate said one of the most important parts of prevention is communication.
“We work very closely with Anice, our school nurse, and with Student Affairs to make sure that we are all on the same page when it comes to communicating to students and the Texas Wesleyan community about how to prevent the flu from actually getting worse,” Azcarate said. “It’s all about being proactive with getting the word out to students, staff, and faculty. Starting in the fall is really the best approach because you start getting the word out rather than waiting until the spring where it’s usually already ongoing and could become a problem.”
Azcarate said he works with Student Affairs and Lewis-Hollins to keep the hand sanitizing stations maintained and available throughout campus in order to encourage preventative actions.
“I think the best thing to do is make sure that you wash your hands and use the gel dispensers,” Azcarate said. “Make a practice that when you’re going around campus and you see one, stop and use it. There’s a lot of germs that are on door handles and any other place that we actually touch, so the best practice is to actually be proactive by washing your hands.”
Lewis-Hollins agrees that it’s important to wash your hands or at least use the hand sanitizers a couple of times a day in order to create a protective barrier from your hands when you touch your face. Lewis-Hollis also noted the importance of disinfecting your environment.
“Wash you backpacks, clean your laptops, your desks, your things in your residence hall, just wiping them down will also help to prevent viruses because viruses lay dormant,” Lewis-Hollins said. “They’re always there, but then when they get this moisture and all this different climate stuff then they thrive. Just the personal hygiene side of it can really help avoid influenza or the flu.”
Lewis-Hollins said that getting a flu shot is one of the best ways to prevent getting the flu.
“There’s this myth out there that you get the flu from the flu vaccine,” Lewis-Hollins said. “That’s not true because it takes 14 days for the flu vaccine to actually protect you. If you get something, it’s usually because there was something already there. I think a lot of the time students don’t realize you can actually die not necessarily from the flu but from complications of the flu meaning pneumonia or a really bad sinus infection. They don’t want to miss class, and they don’t understand that they can miss up to two weeks, a month, or maybe a whole semester if you get sick enough.”
Lewis-Hollins said that free flu vaccines are available in the Nurse’s Office at the West Village Apartments from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. daily while supplies last and no appointments are needed.
“It’s preventive but it’s a yearly vaccine, so it’s not one that you get once in a lifetime,” Lewis-Hollins said. “You have to get it every year because the virus changes yearly. It will protect you, and if you do get the flu, it would hopefully cut it in half, so you wouldn’t be as sick. Some people still got the flu even though they got the flu vaccine last year, but they were only sick for a couple of days.”
Lewis-Hollins also encourages people with flu symptoms to stay home so classmates and professors aren’t exposed and to get checked out as soon as possible to reduce the risk of other complications.
“(Some flu symptoms) would be an elevated temperature higher than 100, severe muscle and joint pain, sore throat, and usually there’s a cough,” she said, “but we call that nonproductive because you’re not getting up any phlegm or things like that. Most of the time you will know if you got the flu, if you’ve had it, you’ll never forget it. Most of the people that have had it don’t want to get it again.”
Sarah Ouimet, assistant dean of students for Residence Life, also highly recommends the flu shot and has worked to make sure residents are informed about preventative methods.
“We’ve set up hand sanitizing stations in each of the halls to remind students to wash their hands,” she said. “We also work with Anice, who is our Health Services director, with spreading the word about getting the flu shot. We also have some posters around the halls on campus reminding students to wash their hands and do their best to prevent getting the flu in the first place. I got my flu shot last week, so I strongly recommend it to people.”
Ouimet said there is a plan in place for students that do get the flu, and that if students feel sick they should visit Lewis-Hollins in order to help diagnose it.
“We work with Anice on students that have to stay in their rooms while they are really sick,” she said. “We’ll work to deliver food to them, we’ll have RAs that are on call do check-ins to see how they’re doing and if they want or need anything because sometimes when you’re sick you’re feeling too tired or you feel too sick to reach out so we try to do reach out as well. We also encourage students that live nearby if they do want to go home for the weekend to do so because sometimes staying with your mom and dad is going to make you feel even better than being in your room. “
Ouimet said that they work with professors, coaches, and Dining Services to help get sick students excused from classes, practices, and games and prevent the flu from spreading.
“We’re hoping that getting some awareness out first hand will help students (not get the flu) in the first place,” she said, “but then (with us) taking quick action once we know a student is sick to work with their professors, coaches, and Dining Services to help mitigate any kind of spreading.”
Ouimet said the university is always looking for ways to improve on managing flu season.
“I think we just want to take where we were and keep on improving,” Ouimet said. “I feel like the more people we help prevent from getting the flu in the first place the more we’re going to help students succeed, so they don’t miss class or practice. We’re making sure that we are collaborating as well as possible. That’s something we definitely want to continue to do, if there’s avenues we can take in the future we’re always going to look for better ways to manage sickness.”