By Kurt Chirbas
Reports of flu-related deaths, including four in Santa Clara County in the last month, led Vaden Health Center to host an emergency flu vaccination clinic on Monday.
Growing public concern over influenza also prompted the Stanford Flu Crew—a student organization dedicated to providing low-cost vaccines to target populations—to coordinate two extra drop-in clinics later this month.
On Jan. 10 the Santa Clara County Health Department reported the deaths of a 41-year-old woman and a 61-year-old man from H1N1 within a month. On Tuesday, the county health department reported two additional H1N1-related deaths: those of a 62-year-old and 61-year-old.
“What we are noticing different this flu season, as compared to last season, is that it seems earlier in the season, we’re seeing more severe cases and more deaths this year,” said Amy Cornell, the county’s health information officer.
To date, there have been 13 reported cases of severe flu, or individuals under the age of 65 who have required hospitalization in the ICU due to the flu this flu season, Cornell said. For point of comparison, nine severe flu cases were reported during the entire course of the last flu season, a period of time that generally lasts from October to April.
“The flu season is very unpredictable,” Cornell said. “It’s hard to say what will happen from year to year—or even what will happen in the season this year.”
Ira Friedman, director of the health center, said that despite media attention on local influenza-related deaths, most members of the Stanford community shouldn’t be too worried about fatalities.
“[Death] always goes along with a bigger number of influenza cases,” Friedman said. “The main concern should be to avoid infection, and the vaccine is really the best and most effective way to do it.”
Media attention actually ended up serving an important role in this regard, Friedman said. It galvanized members of the Stanford community on Monday to visit Vaden and receive their free flu shot—a medical decision he recommends everyone still unvaccinated and in good health to make.
Throughout fall quarter, Vaden hosted 14 vaccination clinics, including eight at its own center and six in campus dining halls in conjunction with Stanford Flu Crew.
During winter break, Vaden made the decision to host the additional Jan.13 drop-in clinic, Friedman said.
“The clinic was added on because we felt there would be a demand given all that’s been going on in the media,” he said.
Due to the increased student demand the Stanford Flu Crew will be holding two additional drop-in clinics this month, according to Yu-Jin Lee ‘11 M.D. ‘17, a medical student director of the Flu Crew. The first clinic will be held on Jan. 22 at Arrillaga Dining Hall. The second is proposed for Jan. 29 with the location pending.
Lee said there are likely two reasons for the increased demand for vaccines this flu season.
“One of the main reasons is because of the media attention,” Lee said. “Another possible reason is that if people see their peers around them getting sick and think that the flu vaccine could prevent them from getting sick, then that could also increase demand.”
Friedman recommended Stanford community members also take additional preventative habits.
“When we counsel people about preventative habits, we talk about the normal things we are worried about: sleep, stress, nutrition and moderate exercise,” Friedman said. “We also always say that people should be covering their coughs and staying away from sharing water bottles, utensils and personal items like lip gloss.”
Beyond drop-in clinics, students and employees can also call and schedule individual appointments to receive the flu vaccine at either Vaden or the Stanford University Occupational Health Center, respectively.
Contact Kurt Chirbas at kchirbas ‘at’ stanford.edu.