Once again, we are in the midst of a public scare over a transmissible disease. The list of such diseases is extensive. Ebola is the one in the news. I spent the week fretting over a communication to our university community. A few weeks before this, I was nervous about the success of our flu shot clinics. They were an overwhelming success.
I have also been involved in developing a proposal to get hand sanitizer dispensers placed strategically over the campus. It is a waste of effort to clean down the desks after each class. Though Ebola is easier to remove from surfaces than cold and flu viruses. The best solution is clean hands. Most people are not mindful of the need to wash their hands or cover their coughs and sneezes. This was graphically pointed out by one of my students. He witnessed another student sneeze into his hand and walk over to shake his buddy’s hand. I spend most of my day handing patients tissues and demonstrating how to cough into the elbow. I have signs everywhere. I am admonishing students who go to class with a fever. They fear the wrath of our policy on missing classes and exams. They opt to risk spread of an illness. It is true of most of us. No one wants to take the time to be “sick” which means voluntary quarantine. Even healthcare workers treating Ebola patients do not want to take 21 days out of their life to monitor themselves for symptoms. The argument is no one will volunteer if they have to relinquish six weeks: three of volunteering and three in quarantine. If I could spend 3 weeks in my place, I would read, catch up on writing and finally clean the basement.
This has been a busy year so far. We have norovirus on cruise ships, enterovirus in daycare, and let’s not forget the usual colds, strep throat, mumps, chicken pox and all those food-borne illnesses All prevention starts with good hand washing.
If I was in charge, the Flu shot would be mandatory for everyone. Influenza is preventable and over the years, I have heard so many excuses that a few years ago, I just starting saying to patients” That is not true. There is no evidence for that.” Not to be disrespectful, but to start a more informed dialog about the merits of getting a vaccine for a vaccine preventable illness.
One year working as a medical director of a Nursing Home, we had a nation-wide vaccine shortage. One employee came to work with early flu symptoms. The vaccine supply was late getting to our patients and we had an outbreak of influenza. I became aware of the risk of death that comes with the illness in the elderly. We lost a number of patients to pneumonia.
I work with college students. I can’t make the flu shot mandatory but I can say that getting the vaccine prevents lost days from classes, missed examinations and can affect the final grade. For the first on-campus clinic, we gave out over 300 vaccinations. I hope that parents encouraged their kids to get vaccinated. Basically, we need to take time to be sick and not expose others to illness. What’s so bad about staying home and just eating chicken soup and drinking hot liquids wrapped in a warm blanket on the sofa.