Colleges Seeing A Surge In Flu Cases

By Staff
October 30, 2009

The American College Health Association reported that influenza-like illnesses widely believed to be the H1N1 virus increased by 34 percent at college campuses in the past week, raising concerns just as vaccine shortages and delays prevented many from receiving swine flu shots.

The association has been tracking the spread of the virus using data from 270 colleges and universities, and in the past week, 97 percent of them reported new flu-like cases. A total of 8,861 new cases were reported, with 20 hospitalizations and no deaths, during the week that ended October 23, reports The Chronicle of Higher Education. Unfortunately, the surge is being seen in areas that seemed to be recovering from severe outbreaks this fall, including the Southeast, Midwest, Mid-Atlantic and Northeast.

According to Dr. James C. Turner, president of ACHA and executive director of the department of student health at the University of Virginia, the vast majority of cases are mild, but health officials nevertheless remain concerned.

"It is somewhat surprising to see resurgence of disease in regions that had seen recent declines," he said. "This likely reflects the relative lack of natural immunity among young adults and students' vulnerability to the infection. We remain concerned about the risk of exposure to vulnerable students on our campuses and their potential to infect those in their communities or their families who are at higher risk for complications, hospitalization, or worse. This recent return of flu helps reaffirm the importance of vaccination once it becomes available."

At Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, about 4 percent of the student body has come down with cases of suspected or confirmed swine flu, but so far there have been no serious complications.

"To date, all of the students who've presented with influenza-like illness have done very very well," said Beth Kotarski, director of student health services, who was quoted in the college's student publication, The Phoenix. "None of them have had to have a very high medical intervention."

Kotarski noted that the spread of the virus at the college is not surprising. "The numbers are still not in any way alarming to us," she said. "They're expected. We're following the trend of what smaller colleges are experiencing right now."

Nevertheless, she urged students who have not come down with the virus to get vaccinated. But because of a nationwide shortage, the college health center--as at many other campuses--is still awaiting shipments of the seasonal flu and H1N1 vaccines.

"Students are disappointed," noted Turner in the Chronicle regarding the vaccine shortage, "and everyone's anxious to get the H1N1 vaccines."

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