UMHS, UHS work to fight influenza

By Molly Block, Assistant News Editor
Published January 24, 2013

The early and rapid outbreak of the flu this winter has hit many unprepared Michiganders, causing the University of Michigan Health System to implement preventative precautions.

UMHS Keri Denay said this year’s flu outbreak has been uncharacteristically early.

“Flu activity can be difficult to predict and varies from season to season,” Denay said. “This year, the flu activity has peaked earlier when compared to last year.”

To counteract the flu outbreak, UMHS is taking additional measures for its patients, such as administering vaccinations during examinations throughout January and February and opening vaccination-only appointments in primary care health centers.

UMHS has not yet imposed visitor restrictions like Covenant HealthCare and St. Mary’s of Michigan in Saginaw, Mich. and Memorial Healthcare in Owosso, Mich. UMHS is however asking patients and visitors with flu-like symptoms to wear a face-mask when in its facilities.

UMHS has also enacted some procedural changes to prevent the spread of the flu.

“Patients with symptoms that can be managed safely at home may even be asked by medical staff to stay home to protect others," Denay said.

In addition to those precautions, UMHS employees have advocated common-sense tips to prevent the spread of the flu, including washing hands with soap and water, staying home if a fever continues and avoiding touching one’s eyes, nose and mouth.

“The best prevention students and community members can employ include covering your cough or sneeze with your elbow or getting your flu shot,” Denay said.

While the flu outbreak has hit the state earlier than usual, University Health Service has not been dealing with an excessive amount of sick students, UHS director Robert Winfield said. UHS still has hundreds of doses of the flu vaccine.

“We are not overwhelmed in any way with influenza-like illnesses, but we are certainly seeing more influenza illness,” Winfield said. “I know several staff have been out with influenza even though they were vaccinated.”

UHS has also set up hygienic stations throughout the clinic.

“As we do every year, we have posts with a hand cleanser dispenser and a stack of masks throughout UHS,” Winfield said. “If we have someone coughing in the sitting room, we’ll ask them to put on a mask.”

In addition to the antibacterial dispensers, Winfield said some nurses have been diverted from their normal duties to vaccinate students.

Due to UHS’s new appointment-only system, Winfield said his staff have been able to triage patients in order to differentiate those with flu-like symptoms from those that actually have the flu.

“We’re trying to handle a lot of the influenza-like illness on the phone, unless someone is very ill and needs to be seen,” Winfield said. “So we really don’t know at this point if we had the old walk-in system whether we would be mobbed.”

UHS has adapted to the early outbreak of this season’s influenza illness, but UMHS has been hit the hardest, Winfield said.

“I know that U of M Emergency Department has seen an increase in the number of influenza-like illness in adults and children above what is normally seen at this time of year.”