H1N1 Hits Campuses Close to Home: Universities of Virginia and Maryland Affected by Pandemic

by   Posted on September 22nd, 2009 in Uncategorized

Lema Baha, Broadside Correspondent

The number of swine flu cases is rapidly rising on college campuses throughout the country.

According to the American College Health Association, of the 236 reporting institutions there have been 4,974 new cases of the H1N1 virus for the week of Aug. 29 to Sept. 4.

So far ABC News has reported that there have been three deaths among college students due to complications related to the virus.

George Mason University has not reported any cases of swine flu this semester, but neighboring schools have not been as fortunate.

The University of Virginia has had 151 swine flu cases so far this fall, and has even set up a tally on their student health services website to report new cases of the virus on campus.

Sandy Murray, director of nursing at UVA, said the tally is updated every day and sometimes several times a day to keep up with the rising number of infected students.

UVA has been following the Centers for Disease Control’s suggestions on how to contain and respond to cases of swine flu.

The university has encouraged self-isolation of diagnosed students until 24 hours after their fever has passed and sick students have been given masks to wear.

The university has also been using a 24-hour phone triage service to respond to sick students’ needs and concerns, said its website.

Murray said that infected students have not been relocated from their dorms because the swine flu can be contagious for two days before a person begins exhibiting symptoms, so roommates and friends usually have already been exposed to the virus.

The University of Maryland has also had a high number of cases, with 557 suspected cases of H1N1 virus, which according to The Baltimore Sun, places it as having the most suspected cases in the region.

UMD has stepped up its educational campaign on the virus by using posters and slogans to encourage students to practice better hygiene in order to prevent the spread of the virus, and hand sanitizer pumps have been placed throughout the school, according to an article in The Baltimore Sun.

ABC News has attributed the disproportionately high number of college age students affected by the virus to factors including the many social events that mark the beginning of the school year, the tight living arrangements in dormitories, back-to-school parties and carelessness among college students—all of which allow the faster spread of germs.

Wagida Abdallah, executive director of Student Health Services at Mason, said  that the high number of cases is not surprising, “Any time there is an illness that affects a lot of people it’s alarming, but it was expected that when schools and universities open there would be more cases of H1N1 flu cases in addition to seasonal flu.”

Student Health Services at Mason has also been taking precautions against the virus by posting instructions for parents, students and resident advisors on their website.

Students are being encouraged by Student Health Services to get vaccinated against the seasonal flu, which is being offered on all three campuses, and to be wary of the virus.

Abdallah says that if there is an outbreak of the H1N1 virus on campus the Student Health Services is planning on following CDC, local and state health department recommendations depending on the severity of the cases.

This would include plans to use distance learning methods such as internet-based lessons, telecommuting and the possible cancellation of campus events to prevent spread of the virus.

While most of the H1N1 cases at universities have been mild, students have been warned not to let down their guards and continue practicing caution.

“The real question is what happens when the regular flu comes in early winter,” said Murray. With two types of infectious illnesses on college campuses, there can be no good predictions on whether we have seen the worst.”

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