Colleges Preparing For Swine Flu

By Staff
August 25, 2009

Officials are predicting that thousands of college and university students will become infected with swine flu this coming semester, and school healthcare workers are preparing for the worst.

USA Today reports that many schools such as Arizona State University have stocked up on Tamiflu, while at the University of Virginia--where students have already started to return--resident advisers are being educated about the virus.

James Turner, executive director of the UVA's Department of Student Health, has already set up a 24-hour hotline for students with the flu, and said that the school is prepared to treat up to 100 students a day. Turner, who is also president of the American College Health Association, lobbied the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to include 19- to 24-year-olds in the first-priority group for the H1N1 vaccine. He expects to see swine flu cases among UVA students within days.

"We're kind of bracing for what the week brings," he told CNN. He predicted that there would be "several thousand cases" of swine flu among college students this fall.

At the University of Kansas at Lawrence, 47 students were reported to have swine flu by Monday after classes resumed several days before. University officials responded by contacting faculty members requesting contingency plans so sick students would not be required to attend class.

"The sanitizer's out," said Todd Cohen, director of university relations. He said that the school is making efforts to isolate ill students by moving their roommates out of dormitories and delivering meals.

But there's a limited amount that the school health center can do. Vaccines are not expected until late October, and will not be effective until five weeks from the first inoculation. The students are "basically told to go home and rest and get better," said Cohen.

USA Today reports that other colleges are taking additional steps to limit spreading the virus: Amherst Collegein Massachusetts is keeping two residential halls empty, which will be used to isolate infected students from Amherst as well as from other area colleges. Nearby Mount Holyoke, meanwhile, will send infected students home by car if they live within 250 miles. At St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland, a gym will be used to isolate students if necessary, while officials at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh will use an empty sorority house.

Since mid-April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has attributed 522 deaths to swine flu in the United States. Yet officials are not advising that schools be closed at this point.

"What we're doing is keeping a very close eye on what's happening with the flu during the fall and the winter," said Lisa Barrios, of the CDC's division of adolescent and school health, who was quoted by CNN. If the virus mutates into a more lethal form, she said, "then we may recommend that schools close, but right now we are not doing that. It's important to balance the risks with the benefits of keeping kids in schools."

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