Getting sick is bad. Missing class can be worse.
For part one, click here
But this year, the University is asking professors to be more flexible with sick students who skip class because of an illness, particularly those who get the H1N1 virus.
Dr. Robert Winfield, the University’s chief medical officer, said students should not attend class if they have H1N1 so that they can’t spread the virus and infect faculty and fellow students.
“We’re asking professors to be lenient about this,” Winfield said, adding that University Health Service will not write notes for those infected with H1N1 because doctors expect an overwhelming amount of students may catch the virus.
“We’re indicating the Health Service can’t give notes to everybody because we’ll be overwhelmed, and we really need to take care of the sick people,” Winfield said.
Students who miss class because they are ill are advised to e-mail their professors and academic adviser to notify them of their absence.
Andrew Burchfield, manager of emergency planning for the University, said students have a personal responsibility to take care of themselves and follow the University’s request to self-isolate when ill.
“People need to make sure that they’re heeding the advice of ‘If you’re sick, stay home; Don’t go in and contaminate others because that’s the best way we’re going to stop the spread,” Burchfield said.
As it has developed this year, swine flu has proven to be more perilous for people under age 24 than the general public. Because the virus is a novel strain that first appeared in the United States in April 2009, very few people have any immunity to fight the virus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that the virus has caused 593 deaths in the United States, while a report by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology estimates that it could kill as many as 90,000 people this season. While approximately 1 million people have caught H1N1 since the strain developed, the council estimates that the virus could infect half the population in the United States, or about 150 million people.
Medical School Associate Professor Sandro Cinti said it is the highly affected age range that has university officials across the country scrambling to prepare.
“With this particular flu, the highest number of deaths have been among younger people between the ages of 25 to 34, so that’s always concerning,” he said.
Cinti, an expert in infectious diseases, said H1N1 is also receiving a lot of attention because it’s the first pandemic since 1968.
“It’s been over 40 years since we’ve had a pandemic,” Cinti said. “The reason pandemics are concerning is because what you have is the introduction of a completely new virus that nobody has ever seen.”
Cinti added that the H1N1 virus is dangerous because people have no immunity against it, and it has predominately affected younger generations.
SWINE FLU VS. SEASONAL FLU
Even though public health officials are comparing H1N1 to the seasonal flu, Cinti said H1N1 is more contagious than seasonal influenza because people have no immunity against it, but it is not any more deadly.
“It remains a very mild flu and most people are better and have fevers that have gone away after two to three days,” Cinti said.
Each year, more than 200,000 people are hospitalized in the United States for influenza. According to the CDC, approximately 9,079 people have been hospitalized for H1N1.
It is difficult to determine the exact amount of H1N1 cases in Washtenaw County because not everyone with the virus sees a doctor who reports the illness. However, the Michigan Department of Community Health has documented 111 confirmed and probable flu-like cases that appeared in the county as of Aug. 29. Ten people have died from the virus in Michigan. None were from Washtenaw County.
Though Cinti said the virus is not more lethal than the seasonal flu — which kills about 36,000 people each year — he recommended students should be vaccinated for both influenzas.
Some people have raised concerns that the H1N1 vaccination could cause unknown side effects similar to when the government issued vaccinations against the swine flu in 1976, and the vaccine allegedly caused a paralyzing disorder called Guillain-Barré Syndrome.
While about 40 million people received the vaccine, Cinti said the side effects occurred in about 58 people and that the incident was isolated to the 1976 vaccine. Yet he admitted that researchers are in the process of studying potential effects of the 2009 vaccine.
“There’s no reason to think that will be an issue for this particular flu season, and the H1N1 vaccine, but we don’t know,” Cinti said. “The H1N1 vaccine is still being tested — even now.”
Regardless of the University’s virus prevention campaign, students will be at greater risk of contracting H1N1 and the seasonal flu because of their close interactions with other students in residence halls, classrooms and social gatherings.
“There’s no question that University students will be at greater risk for influenza — either H1N1 or seasonal influenza,” said Dr. Robert Ernst, director of the Medical School.
Because University students tend to be around a lot of crowds, protecting themselves with frequent hand washing and use of a hand sanitizer is a good strategy to try to avoid influenza, Ernst said, adding that students should carry personal hand sanitizer with them in case they are in a place where they can’t wash their hands.
Students who live in apartments or houses with a group of people will have to be especially careful if a roommate gets the H1N1 virus, several officials said.
“If you have a house with 10 people, you could reasonably expect that two or three other people might get sick,” Ernst said, “But you can actually affect that risk if people take care of themselves by washing their hands and being real careful about keeping their hands away from their eyes and their mouth.”
Despite all the unknown and unanswered questions surrounding the topic of H1N1, Winfield said the University is not alarmed.
“I think the right word would be that we’re concerned about the safety of students, faculty and staff and that were also concerned that we can maintain the academic programs so that students can make the expected academic progress that they need to do,” Winfield said.
He added that he worries there may be some change or unexpected developments, but for the most part, the University is prepared.
“If there’s no traumatic change in the way the virus behaves I think that the University community will be OK,” he said.
To read part one of the swine flu series, click here.