University becomes 'drive-in' force in flu preparation
At Carolina, beautiful fall weather means students reading on blankets and throwing Frisbees at the Horseshoe. This year, it also means students, joining faculty and staff, in getting flu shots at one of the university’s many outdoor flu clinics.
On Oct. 1, the university’s Thomson Student Health Center launched its latest outdoor flu clinic – a drive-through clinic to administer seasonal flu shots – in the parking lot across from the Colonial Life Arena. University health officials gave flu shots at the location from noon – 7 p.m.
“The outdoor flu clinics have been very successful,” said Dr. Deborah Beck, executive director of the Thomson Student Health Center. “We’ve administered 200 to 450 shots at each one we’ve held.”
Beck said the university decided to hold the outdoor clinics to raise awareness of seasonal and H1N1 flu, to make getting flu shots more convenient and to reduce the spread of flu by not crowding an indoor space.
Beck said 3,500 of the university’s 5,000 seasonal flu vaccines have been administered. She said staff members hoped to give upwards of 600 vaccines at today’s drive-through clinic. She said because campus participation in the flu vaccine clinics has been so positive, the university ordered an additional 1,500 seasonal flu vaccines, which are expected to arrive soon.
“Normally, we order and administer about 2,500 seasonal flu vaccines each year,” Beck said. “Because of heightened public awareness of flu and our flu education efforts on campus, we anticipated a higher demand and doubled our order.”
Beck said she is pleased with the campus’ flu prevention response, particularly the increased numbers of students getting seasonal flu shots.
“Our efforts to reach students early and often have really helped,” said Beck. “The messages on campus about hand washing, using hand sanitizer and being aware of flu symptoms have limited the spread of H1N1 flu. Of course, there’s also a little luck.”
To date, there have been 160 patients who have tested positive for H1N1 on the Columbia campus, but that number is going up – about 25-plus each day – as the wave of H1N1 swells. Beck says health officials expect the initial wave of the H1N1 flu to peak mid-fall. An additional 30 people are treated for flu-like symptoms each day, as the existing flu tests are only 40 percent sensitive to H1N1.
The Thomson Student Health Center tests for flu because it is designated as a sentinel site by DHEC and CDC, which means it supplies virus cultures that provide critical information for health officials to use in the building of flu vaccines.
“The demand on health services is definitely up this year,” she said. “Each of our doctors sees up to 40 patients every day. On Monday (Sept. 28), our staff saw 252 patients; they saw 174 patients the same day last year. However, despite being worn out, our morale is high. We know we are making a difference in flu prevention and response on campus.”
Beck said she expects H1N1 to peak in the next few weeks, when cases of seasonal flu are expected to emerge. She said the university has ordered 15,000 H1N1 vaccines to cover students, staff and faculty and that outdoor flu clinics on campus will be planned.
“We will continue to reach out to students, faculty and staff and go to where they are on campus,” said Beck, who cites successful collaboration between university health staff, parking officials and nursing faculty to make the clinics possible.
Thomas Collins, emergency manager for Lexington County, observed the drive-through clinic along with other county officials in preparation for a series of drive-through flu clinics for H1N1 the county will host in late fall and early winter.
Students gathering on campus to get flu shots aren’t the only visible signs of flu awareness and preparedness on campus. More than 10,000 flu kits were distributed during Move-in Day. Hundreds of flu-fact posters don bulletin boards, and more than 150 hand-sanitizer stations have been installed in residence halls, classroom and campus buildings, dining facilities and other high traffic areas.
Dr. Gene Luna, associate vice president for student affairs and executive assistant to the vice provost for academic support, said the university’s aggressive flu-education campaign extends far beyond the visible, as administrators and deans attend regular briefings on flu so that they are prepared to work with their staffs to avoid a massive outbreak.
“We are a well-prepared university community and have put tremendous effort into a flu-mitigation campaign,” he said. “The university is a complex organization that has demonstrated how it can gear up and have a concerted response to threat and emergency.
“It is gratifying to see such phenomenal collaboration and effort that brings together all corners of our state’s flagship university, from our schools of medicine and public health and college of nursing to parking and transportation and student leadership,” Luna said.
For more information about the university’s preparedness and response to flu and for important flu-related Web links, visit the Web site: http://www.sc.edu/flu/.