Flu Symptoms Peak in November at 5Cs

The number of students with flu-like symptoms on the 5Cs peaked in November of this year. In response to the national swine flu outbreak, the 5Cs have taken several preventative measures this semester. To curb the spread of the influenza, Student Health Services (SHS) distributed flu kits and H1N1 vaccinations and held seven seasonal-flu clinics.Of the 500 H1N1 vaccines received—consisting of 400 injections and 100 nasal sprays—SHS distributed all but about 20. It first provided vaccines to students with chronic illnesses, suppressed immune system and other high-risk factors for contracting the flu.The prevalence of the flu worldwide is decreasing. According to the World Health Organization, disease activity appears to have peaked in the U.S.The peak of reported flu-like symptoms at the 5Cs occurred Nov. 2 through Nov. 20. Roughly 300 students reported flu-like symptoms this semester, but the exact number of how many were H1N1 remains undetermined because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) discontinued confirmatory testing during the summer except for patients who were hospitalized or died. The number of students showing relevant symptoms may have increased in part because the senior physician at SHS, Curtis Foster, altered SHS’s definition of flu-like symptoms in November to exclude fever because students were showing swine flu symptoms without fever.“It’s hard to say [whether the danger has subsided],” said Denise Hayes, Director of Student Health and Counseling Services. “Because it’s kind of an unknown, I don’t know. We hope so, but we just don’t know.”Though its place of origin is unknown, the virus was first detected in the U.S. in April. More than 22 million people became ill in the U.S., and an estimated 3,900 died from it in the first six months, according to the CDC. The seasonal flu typically kills about 36,000 people across the nation each year.According to Hayes, one of the reasons swine flu has caused panic is that, unlike the seasonal flu, to which people 65 and older are most susceptible, H1N1 is most contagious among people ages 10 to 45.“It’s kind of a novelty in some ways, and having a new virus in the community is something for us to pay attention to, certainly,” Hayes said. “It’s just important that people understand that it is the flu. It has not had as many deaths as the seasonal flu, [and] the symptoms are not as severe for most people as seasonal flu.Unless you have a chronic illness or some other things that complicate your health, most people are going to come out of it just fine.”Though the deans of students at the 5Cs met jointly with Hayes to discuss preventative measures, each college individually decided how to approach the situation.Pomona sent students e-mails on flu prevention and sent faculty, staff and incoming students a video on proper coughing and sneezing techniques. It also encouraged a flu buddy system, in which friends brought sick students food to avoid dining-hall contamination; asked faculty to encourage sick students not to attend class; and identified a house, next to Pomona Dean of Students Miriam Feldblum’s, in which 18 sick students or roommates of sick students could live temporarily. The house has not yet been used.“I think the difference [from the approach in the spring] is that we were in the middle of the semester,” Feldblum said. “We were reacting. We didn’t know how serious it was. We were trying to figure out what measures can we take into place to help manage it if it came to campus. This year we started planning in the summer, saying we know that there are going to be students, staff and faculty who will get H1N1. That was pretty much what the CDC and others were saying, ‘It’s going to come.’ So, really, you want to plan as well as possible, and the biggest piece of advice that the CDC gave at a national level was to really emphasize preventative measures: good hygiene [to] help contain the spread of the disease.”As the flu season heightens and students travel over break, differentiating swine flu from seasonal flu will become more difficult, but both require the same treatment: rest, drink plenty of fluids, and keep the fever down. SHS distributed nearly 1,000 seasonal flu vaccines at the seven clinics it held this semester, compared with 600 that were distributed in three clinics last year. Health Education Outreach also assembled 1,000 flu kits for the 5Cs containing hand sanitizer, tissues, acetaminophen, a thermometer and information about flu prevention, symptoms, and treatment.“[In] Southern California, we often don’t see [the seasonal-flu season] until November, and it will go into the spring, and it really just depends upon the climate,” said Suzanne Knutzen, Nurse Practitioner at SHS. “For us, it’s impacted because people are traveling, so they’re bringing stuff into the area that we maybe wouldn’t normally see.”Knutzen said SHS is fortunate it received the seasonal flu vaccine at all.“Many people had ordered it and did not receive it,” Knutzed said. “There are shortages all over the place. You’ll find that you ask your private doctor, they didn’t get it. So we’re very fortunate, and we actually got an additional 150 doses. A lot of the decision-making was not in our control.”Hayes said SHS is not sure if it will receive any swine flu vaccinations in the spring but feels they handled the pandemic well. For next semester, Feldblum plans on keeping all prevention initiatives in place at Pomona.“I think that the lessons that we’ve learned about H1N1 are lessons that we can keep in place for the future, which is emphasizing good, preventative measures of hand washing, of appropriate sneezing and coughing, of having a place when need be [and of having] a flu buddy system,” Feldblum said.

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