Boynton prepares for ‘unpredictable’ flu season

The health service is prepared to facilitate 20,000 flu vaccinations.

by Branden Largent

The University of Minnesota’s Boynton Health Service is expecting a busier than usual flu season.

With two new flu strains and a variant of the Swine Flu circulating, Boynton is gearing up for significantly more influenza cases than it encountered during last year’s mild flu season.

“We’ve got vaccine coming out of our ears already,” said Dave Golden, Boynton director of public health and communication.

Boynton is prepared to facilitate 20,000 flu vaccinations this year and will likely begin giving the shots — which are free to University students, faculty, staff and dependents — by the end of the month, Golden said.

“This flu season is very unpredictable,” said Jennifer Heath, an immunization specialist at the Minnesota Department of Health. “We do not quite know how it’s gonna act.”

Heath said the unpredictability of the flu strains this year makes getting vaccinations as soon as they are available important.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated last year that there were about half the number of flu cases as in previous years, making this year’s numbers seem greater, Heath said.

The vaccine will cover the two new human strains, but it will not cover the variant H3N2v, or the Swine Flu.

Swine Flu

Swine flu typically passes from pig to person or person to pig.

According to an MDH release, person-to-person transmission is limited.

“Right now, [swine flu] is just something to be watchful of,” Golden said.

Students in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences who come into contact with pigs will be monitored and will follow MDH guidelines set forth for the Minnesota State Fair, Abel Ponce de Leon, the senior associate dean for research at CFANS, said in a written statement Friday.

“Of course, students’ well being is always our primary concern, so if the H3N2v situation changes, we would reconsider our policies as necessary,” he said.

The MDH’s guidelines include not drinking or eating in swine barns and washing hands after coming in contact with animals, particularly pigs.

Jeff Bender, a University veterinarian, has tested Minnesota State Fair pigs for H3N2v but will not do the same for pigs on the St. Paul campus because he said student contact with pigs is very limited.

MDH has found two confirmed cases and one probable case of H3N2v, or Swine Flu, in Minnesota so far this year.

Bender said students should get flu vaccinations or stay home if they have flu symptoms.

“When we congregate people and put them in confined spaces like classrooms and dorms, the settings allow for influenza transmission,” he said.