Stay home if you’re sick, Ithaca College reminds students

A “significant increase in influenza cases at the health center” has led Ithaca College health officials to remind students to stay home if they’re sick, and to ask faculty to be accommodating.

“Any student experiencing flu symptoms (fever and bodyaches — often accompanied by sore throat, cough or nausea/decreased appetite) should be advised not to attend class, work or any activities in the community or beyond,” wrote Dr. C. Vivian Lorenzo, medical services director of IC’s Hammond Health Center in a bulletin for college deans and faculty members.

Dr. Lorenzo’s message went on to say, “Please encourage all your students, faculty and staff to get immunized against flu.” She says even though the vaccine takes two weeks to become fully effective, it’s not too late to be vaccinated this year. Students can contact the Hammond Health Center to schedule a free vaccination, and faculty and staff are encouraged to use their primary care physician or a local pharmacy.

College officials are asking faculty and supervisors to be accommodating when students stay home from class or campus jobs. “Please do not require students to provide a written excuse from the Hammond Health Center as this utilizes our resources for unnecessary medical visits,” Dr. Lorenzo’s message asks. “As a general policy, we do not provide class excuses for routine illnesses.”

Ithaca College tells us “There is nothing particularly alarming about what we are seeing this year at Ithaca College, as this is the time of year we almost always see an increase in flu cases,” and their health officials have sent similar letters before, including in 2014 and 2015, but last year “was a pretty quiet year for flu.”

“We haven’t seen anything out of the ordinary,” agrees Sharon Dittman, director of community relations at Cornell Health. “Though there was a bit of a bump in cases at the beginning of the semester with students returning to campus from far and wide, that already has dropped off,” she tells us. “It is seasonal flu season,” she stresses, and “it’s still very important for people to take precautions against the flu.”

Cornell’s Dittman reiterates the vaccination advice. “At Cornell, we are very grateful to our students who got vaccinated to protect themselves and others — the number so far this year exceeds the number vaccinated in each of the previous three years.”

The New York State Department of Health’s latest report says influenza activity is “geographically widespread,” including Tompkins County, so we should all take health precautions. Cornell Health’s suggestions:

  • Get vaccinated.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Cough or sneeze into your elbow if tissues aren’t available.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and warm water, especially after you cough, sneeze, or touch shared surfaces. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective (60 to 95% alcohol).
  • Clean shared surfaces (doorknobs, keyboards, phones, etc.) with disinfectant.
  • Do not share cups, eating utensils, smoking paraphernalia, lip balm, etc.
  • Be careful in crowded party settings where loud up close conversation, shared food bowls and pizzas, and drinking games create exposure risks.
  • Avoid close contact with sick people. Keep a distance of about 6 feet if possible. (Just walking by or sitting near an infected person in an office or waiting room is not considered close contact.)
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Strengthen your immune system: eat a balanced diet; exercise on a regular basis; get plenty of rest.

Cornell students may be traveling this weekend for the school’s February break, but Dittman says that shouldn’t be a reason for particular concern “now that influenza is widespread right here at home.”

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