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Health Center responds to "swine flu" hype

  • September 8, 2009

Fresh concern about the swine flu has risen as school starts and flu season nears, especially on college campuses where students are in close quarters.

At least two Biola students contracted the swine flu over the summer, and colleges across the country are updating their pandemic policies. The Washington Post reported that at least 1,600 cases of the swine flu have appeared in the first few weeks of college classes, and as of the most recent American College Health Association update, there have been over 2,000 cases among 2.3 million college students. The highest rates of the disease are in the southeast and northwest regions. There have been three hospitalizations and no deaths.

The Biola Health Center encourages students not to overreact to the growing media coverage, but to, nevertheless, take precautions as they would in efforts to avoid any flu. Anything can happen, said Kristin Phelps, director of the center, but research indicates students can expect milder cases of the swine flu, also known as H1N1, this fall. Phelps said officials don’t even like to call H1N1 the “swine flu.”

“We call it ILI, or influenza-like-illness,” Phelps said. “Biola has had no confirmed cases of ILI, and the known cases across the nation where death resulted involved secondary diseases.”

As those over 65 and younger than six months are more vulnerable to the regular flu, those with chronic illnesses are the only ones likely to have serious cases of ILI. Thus, Phelps said, only those who have such illnesses or who experience symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain, or bluish lips should consult a doctor or visit the center. All others should quarantine themselves for 24 hours and stay at least three feet away from other people. In most cases, patients improve after four to seven days.

Junior Raquel Mendoza contracted swine flu during a trip in Louisiana and said that, after taking antibiotics, she felt better in a week.

“It’s definitely blown out of proportion,” Mendoza said. “It really was just like the regular flu except my body ached more. And once you’ve had it, you don’t get it again. It’s just like the chicken pox.”

Phelps said ILI, which originally broke out in Mexico and spread to the U.S. last spring, has signs similar to the regular flu: fever over 100 degrees, sore throat, cough, chills, vomiting, aches, and diarrhea. The guidelines for avoiding ILI are similar. Students should wash their hands regularly, use hand sanitizer, cough and sneeze into a tissue or a sleeve, and clean common surfaces such as toilets, desks and doorknobs.

The center has provided hand sanitizers outside the Caf and in the dorms, but Phelps said the best thing the center can do is provide information. The center has hung informative posters in community bathrooms, informed RDs and RAs about what to look for and how to react to student cases, kept parent relations updated, and distributed fliers with the center’s pandemic policy in student mailboxes.

In addition to these efforts, the Biola Health Center keeps the L.A. County Health Department and the American College Health Association updated on cases of ILI on the Biola campus. Phelps said the center is part of the ILI Surveillance in Colleges and Universities Project, which collects data from colleges and sends updated statistics to participating schools.

According to the New York Times, a vaccine for ILI is due out mid-October, but Phelps said the center does not know how much of the vaccine it will receive and when. She said the center will keep faculty, parents, and students updated should such a vaccine becomes available. Meanwhile, health officials say students should not hesitate to get the regular flu shot, which differs from the swine flu vaccine.

“I can take anything,” sophomore Vanessa Watts said. “But I’m still going to be cautious. I think Biola has a good health center that helps students and that knows what it’s doing.”

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