The Pitt News

Study aims to prevent spread of the flu

By Em Maier / Staff Writer

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Seeping in with the cold, it crosses all borders: political, geographical and racial. Aware of and constantly monitoring our assassination attempts, it changes its identification quickly and frequently.

Seasonal influenza is a highly contagious respiratory disease induced by a virus. Often, it just knocks you out for a week as you snuffle through a box of tissues and sip on soup. But if the virus finds the perfect combination of factors, it can kill hundreds of thousands of people.

Now, Shanta Zimmer from Pitt’s Internal Medicine department and Johns Hopkins’ Derek Cummings are working to find out how school-aged children influence the transmission of the disease and how school closings could halt its spread.

Propel Schools and the Canon-McMillan School District worked with Zimmer’s Social Mixing and Respiratory Transmission (SMART) study. More than 400 children were given devices that sensed and recorded the proximity of other children’s devices. These children wore the devices on particular days for the entirety of the school day. Diaries and videos were also used to understand how the children interacted.

This is the second year of the study. Last year’s results demonstrated that an average student interacted with more than 100 other students per day. Researchers hope that the SMART study will aid in understanding the first steps to preventing an epidemic, before a vaccine has been created.

“A central tenet of close-contact or respiratory infection epidemiology is that infection patterns within human populations are related to underlying patterns of social interaction. Until recently, few researchers had attempted to quantify potentially infectious encounters made between people,” Cummings said in a recent publication of Epidemiology & Infection.

While this study is going on, the University of Pittsburgh’s method to preventing the flu is providing vaccines. In the fall, the Student Health Center provided flu shots to students, staff and faculty for free at various locations on campus. Students with a valid Pitt ID can still receive free shots at Student Health Services in the Medical Arts Building on Fifth Avenue. This season, Pitt has given upwards of 2,400 flu shots, according to Marian Vanek, director of student health services.

“We’re still quite active; students can still get flu shots any day,” Vanek said.

Jacob Wilder, a junior at Pitt, is appreciative of the University’s efforts, encouraging others to spend a few minutes to vaccinate against the flu.

”I’ve gotten one [shot] every year, and reminded my friends through Facebook and texts to walk over during the fall days on campus,” Wilder said. “Most of us don’t really have the time to get sick.”

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Study aims to prevent spread of the flu