Kleenex — check. Hand sanitizer — check. Molded surgical masks? Check. This year, with the introduction of a new strain of flu — H1N1, dubbed swine flu — in addition to the run-of-the mill seasonal flu, University health officials are fighting infection in more creative ways.
Swine flu mania is upon us, and there isn’t a place you can go on campus that won’t remind you of that. First, there was the e-mail from Provost Teresa Sullivan, instructing fever-ridden students to stay quarantined for 24 hours after the fever broke. (The e-mail also provided a get-out-of-class-free card for anyone bold enough to fib about having the flu.) Now, every bulletin board seems to feature this cute reminder of flu safety: “Coughs and sneezes spread diseases!”
But the University is also doing some innovative things behind the scenes to battle the flu. A “flu bus”, for example, will transport two sick students at a time from residence halls to University Health Services.
The University’s All Hazard Planning Group—a group of about 50 individuals from various University departments— is responsible for such initiatives. After the avian flu scare a few years ago, the group has been working behind the scenes to combat any pandemic that might threaten campus.
Amid the flu craze, UHS is a beacon for ill students. In the clinic, signs give tips for avoiding the transmission of flu and urge visitors with flu symptoms (fever, sore throat, cough, headache, body aches) to put on surgical masks. But UHS hasn’t been able to provide much more than helpful tips to some students — since the flu mania began, walk-in appointments have sometimes been harder to get into than Rick’s on a Saturday night.
At around 4 p.m. last Friday, a half hour before the clinic closed, all the waiting rooms were occupied with people wearing surgical masks. The sign that hung above the appointment check-in desk displaying the wait time for a walk-in appointment simply read “OVERBOOK.”
Aniuska Rovaina, a Public Policy junior, made an appointment at UHS that day on account of her roommate’s weariness over her recent cough and congestion symptoms. Although she respected her roommate’s concern over catching the flu, Rovaina said she thinks there’s too much hype about being safe this flu season.
“I think that kids are thinking way too much about (contracting the flu) when it’s not that big of a deal,” she said.
But according to Robert Winfield, the University’s chief health officer, these safety measures are necessary during such an aggressive flu season such as this one.
“It’s very uncommon for us to see this,” Winfield said.
About 15 years ago, Winfield said that there was an outbreak of flu that overwhelmed University Health Services for about two weeks — an amount of cases close to what he is currently seeing.
On a typical day, UHS sees about 40 to 50 people who are possibly infected with H1N1. Just two weeks ago, UHS only saw 50 people who reported to have flu-like symptoms. Last week, UHS treated 190 people.
Although the University is no longer testing patients for the flu, UHS is a surveillance site for a study within the School of Public Health that submits five to 10 anonymous specimens a day to a laboratory to be tested for flu. Based on these studies, it’s evident that there are people on this campus who are infected with H1N1. So there’s a real chance your roommate isn’t just being dramatic.
Other universities are experiencing even more aggressive flu outbreaks. At Cornell University, one student died on Sept. 11 due to complications with H1N1. The number of Cornell students diagnosed as probable H1N1 cases amounted to over 550, The Cornell Daily Sun reported Sept. 14.
Cornell’s Greek scene has put the kibosh on germ-swapping social activities like beer pong tournaments and massive house parties. The Interfraternity Council voted to place a moratorium on social events for an undefined amount of time because of severe outbreak, the Sun reported.
So with an increasing amount of flu cases and extreme surges of the virus on other campuses, should students be really worried?
Winfield doesn’t think so. He said that last Friday, UHS saw 16 people with flu-like symptoms, which is a decrease of about 20-30 people per day. He cited three possible reasons for the decrease: the outbreak could be winding down, students who caught it at the Sept. 12 football game are overcoming the virus or students are going home when they feel sick and not checking into UHS.
Despite the heightened awareness of flu on campus, Winfield said he believes that most students are not letting themselves get too worked up.
“I think that students are handling this well,” he said. “We’ve had occasional students that are very frightened, occasional parents that are very worried, but I think overall, people are being very sensible.”