Public Health

Is Swine Flu Still The Big Bug On Campus?

When the H1N1 pandemic first hit the U.S. last spring, college campuses drew particular scrutiny because of their close quarters teeming with young people, who are more vulnerable to the virus.

Click on image to see full-size chart and data on swine flu cases on campuses. ACHA hide caption

itoggle caption ACHA

The concern returned this fall as students headed back to campus just as the virus resumed its march. After a flurry of swine flu reports in September, cases eased a little in October.

How are things these days? Kitty Boyer of Auburn, Alabama, asks:

What's happening on college campuses with swine flu? My daughter's college is swamped. Is that true elsewhere?

We turned to the Web site of the American College Health Association, which has been tracking reported cases of H1N1 on campuses around the country and found they're hitting new highs.

Last week, reported cases of flu-like illness, hit 29 per 10,000 students. While that was just one percent higher than the week before, it's a big jump over the number of cases reported in October—18.9 per 10,000.

Fortunately, the ACHA reports the illnesses remain generally mild, with only 138 reported hospitalizations due to the flu and no deaths since late August.

The rate of illness varies greatly by region and state. Sixteen states reported their highest number of cases in the last two weeks, especially in the Northeast and upper Midwest. Some states, including Washington, hit their peak back in early Sept.

Dr. James Turner, ACHA's president, estimates more than 375,000 college students have fallen ill with the flu since August. He hopes college students will get vaccinated against the flu, even if they friends recover from the flu. Students, he tells us, are "failing to recognize that one of the most compelling reasons to get the vaccine is so that you don't transmit the virus to someone that's at risk." But so far, he says, less than two percent of students have been vaccinated due to the shortage.

Spreading the virus off-campus could become an even bigger issue when hoards of students head home for Thanksgiving, says Michael Kurland Director of Health Services at the University of Connecticut.

Back in September, UConn had one or two students visit the health center with flu per week. Last week 208 students showed up. And "what we are seeing or hearing about is just the tip of the iceberg," Kurland tells us.

Almost one-third of the total reported flu at UConn happened in the last week — just in time for the holidays. "If your children are sick, don't send them back to school from Thanksgiving sick," he advises.

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