Iowa Alumni Magazine | December 2005 | Features

The UI and the Flu

By Tina Owen
“The campus was under strict military police, and no one from president to sweep was allowed to enter or leave the campus without a pass…. It is due to the efficient measures that were taken to control the epidemic that the number of deaths fell well below normal.”

With those chilling words in November 1918, the Iowa Alumnus magazine reported the effects of the Spanish Flu pandemic on the UI. Thirty-eight people in the university community died either from the flu or from pneumonia brought on by it. Today, experts on campus are working on a number of projects to understand the disease and prevent further pandemics.

•  At UI Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC), researchers are testing whether diluted doses of influenza vaccine are effective. Apart from helping overcome vaccine shortages, this new approach is also less painful than a typical flu shot. Instead of being injected into muscle, the diluted vaccine is delivered under the skin, where the greater number of immune cells should prompt a better flu-fighting response. 

•  In the College of Public Health, researchers at the Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases (CEID) are conducting a two-year study of some 800 agricultural workers from across Iowa to help determine the prevalence of and risk factors for “zoonotic Influenza A”—cross-species infection from poultry or swine to humans.

•  To help understand how bird flu is transmitted to humans and to develop possible vaccines, another CEID researcher is analyzing blood samples of Department of Natural Resources workers and duck hunters to see whether they have been exposed to the virus.

•  Every year during flu season, Hygienic Laboratory staff monitor for new strains of influenza or “hotspots” of the disease that occur in Iowa.

•  A research team from the Tippie College of Business and the Carver College of Medicine is testing whether the Iowa Electronic Markets can predict influenza outbreaks. 

•  This fall, as part of its preparedness plans for a pandemic, UIHC began a mass vaccination campaign of its healthcare staff. As well as preventing staff from contracting and transmitting flu, the project aimed to test the hospital’s ability to quickly vaccinate a large number of people.