Flu makes seasonal debut on campus: Bailey’s tests for norovirus

Bailey Health Center (Courtesy of Lafayette Communications)

In just the second week of the semester, influenza occurrence reached such heights that health services sent out a campus-wide alert. In the most severe cases, students are missing classes and at least one has gone to the hospital.

“I don’t send out alerts unless there is a large number of students who are affected by a particular virus,” Director of Health Services Jeffrey Goldstein said. As of Tuesday there were 84 cases reported at Bailey’s and close to that number of students received dean’s excuses.

Northampton County is seeing one of the highest numbers of cases in the state, according to the state Department of Health. Influenza is labeled “widespread,” after a spike in cases around the state four weeks ago.

Some cases were so virulent that Bailey’s staff has sent samples to a lab to test whether norovirus has returned. Norovirus struck Lafayette powerfully last spring, incapacitating students and shutting down the school for two days.

Goldstein remarked that he was surprised by how long the flu took to reach campus.

“I predicted this would happen,” Goldstein said. “I was surprised it took as long as it did, because I thought if the numbers were high in the community…I expected it to pop up immediately, because this year we’re seeing greater numbers than in other years.”

He said that purpose of the alert was to “raise the level of vigilance to keep people aware that there is a somewhat serious infection that is widespread.”

“What we are seeing on campus really reflects what is going on in the community,” Goldstein said. The community of Easton and many other regions within Pennsylvania are experiencing similar influenza activity among residents.

Although very similar high influenza activity is seen within communities outside of Lafayette, contagious diseases spread much more on a college campus than in these outside communities, particularly due to the nature of living in close quarters to other residents in a college atmosphere.

Bailey’s has taken a few precautionary measures to help prevent any further spread of the flu such as disinfecting thoroughly after seeing a patient and having sick patients wear masks while in the waiting room. Goldstein is also in contact with plant operations to increase cleaning and bleaching around campus where needed.

Chief of Police and Associate Director of Public Safety Jim Meyer said that public safety has driven about one or two students to the hospital for treatment, but Goldstein said none have been admitted. For Goldstein, the “numbers are not alarmingly high.”

The numbers are also not close to the numbers of students who came into Bailey’s as a result of the norovirus last year. For this reason, Goldstein doesn’t think norovirus is coming back.

“My gut feeling is we’re not dealing with another outbreak,” he said. “Knowing how incredibly contagious norovirus can be, we haven’t seen the large groups come in with the same symptoms.”

The result of the lab test for norovirus are expected to come back on Thursday or Friday, after press time.

“Norovirus is a very tough virus,” Goldstein said. “It lives on surfaces for a lot longer than the average virus so the cleaning has to be a lot more thorough.”

Goldstein added that a bleach solution is the best thing to sanitize the campus quickly and efficiently.

Bailey Health Center, though, has “increased the number of provider hours last semester as a result of the outbreak” to ensure enough appointment times.

Although there is an increased number of appointments at the health center, Goldstein said that “we have been able to keep up with the number of students who are sick.”

Ian Morse ’17 contributed reporting.

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