This year’s flu season is expected to be the worst in 15 years, and the season at Binghamton University is no exception: There have been three times as many cases on campus this year than last. Since the start of classes this semester, about 40 students have been diagnosed at Decker Student Health Services Center, and Harpur’s Ferry, BU’s student-run ambulance, has transported 15 to local emergency rooms.
The New York State Department of Health’s Weekly Influenza Surveillance Report indicated over 7,779 cases confirmed in the week of Jan. 14 to 20, which prompted Gov. Andrew Cuomo to declare a public health emergency last week.
Since the first week of October, Decker Student Health Services Center has held 10 free vaccination clinics, and has vaccinated over 1,100 students. The clinics are held outside of normal walk-in hours so students can avoid contact with infected patients.
Both Decker Student Health Services Center and the BU Office of Communications and Marketing have released messages to students about avoiding contamination, making health services appointments, recognizing symptoms and receiving vaccinations.
In an announcement released last week, the University urged faculty to accommodate students dealing with the illness.
“Students and instructors are put at risk when sick students choose to attend class when they are ill,” the announcement read. “Students are encouraged to make individual arrangements with their instructors when illness interferes with course work.”
Some students, however, fear missing classes for an extended period of time. Katy Novak, a sophomore majoring in math, said she could not afford to miss much class time.
“I had to miss a full day of classes which obviously set me behind,” Novak wrote in email. “Even though I was excused to miss more days, I feel like in college you sadly have to put your school work before your health at times.”
Brian Killian, an undeclared freshman, said his professors have been proactive about communicating the severity of the campus outbreak.
“In almost all of my classes, the professors have made a large effort to let students know about the flu on campus,” Killian said. “It’s clear they don’t want anyone coming to class if they’re that sick.”
Harpur’s Ferry has also been responsible for treating those suffering from influenza and its symptoms on campus. Blake Topper, the second assistant chief and operations director for Harpur’s Ferry and a senior majoring in integrative neuroscience, emphasized the quantity of the calls and issues presented by this year’s strain.
“About 25 percent of our total call volume so far this year has been patients with flu-like symptoms,” Topper wrote in an email. “The strain of flu this year has presented itself to be pretty serious. One of the reasons the strain is so widespread is that the flu vaccine doesn’t cover the strain of flu we are seeing.”
Katie Ellis, senior director of communications and marketing, said students living in close proximity to one another are particularly vulnerable to such exposures. She said that prior to this year’s flu season, the University contacted both parents and students in an attempt to contain the virus.
“We included information in one of the monthly newsletters to parents last fall, well before the flu season began, encouraging them to remind their students to be vaccinated,” Ellis wrote in an email.
According to Michael Leonard, the medical director of Decker Student Health Services, flu outbreaks tend to last four to six weeks. In a year with a particularly bad strain, this outbreak could last longer. Decker Student Health Services and the BU administration continue to urge students to educate themselves on the symptoms, seek treatment if necessary and receive a vaccine at one of the clinics on campus.