Despite efforts to contain the spread of the H1N1 virus at colleges and universities nationwide, symptoms of the virus have begun to make the rounds on campus. Roughly 30 cases of students with influenza-like symptoms have been reported to the Davison Health Center since the start of the academic year, according to Dr. Davis Smith, Medical Director of the Health Center. However, changes to the procedure for testing and tracking the H1N1 virus have left sick students unsure which illness they contracted—the H1N1 virus or the seasonal flu.
According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, health officials have concluded that testing for the H1N1 virus is too expensive and time-consuming when those ill with the virus will just be treated as if they have the seasonal flu. Consequently, it remains unclear how many individuals have contracted the H1N1 virus nationwide.
Most colleges, including Wesleyan, have stopped testing students for H1N1 and instead are keeping track of the number of students with symptoms of an Influenza-like Illness (ILI), which the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has defined as fever (temperature above 100 degrees Fahrenheit) and cough and/or sore throat.
Roughly one to two cases of ILI have been reported to the University Health Center each day since the start of the school year. Of these cases, about one-fifth of students have left campus to recuperate, and more than two-thirds of all students with ILI have recovered after a few days.
“Many more students will fit these criteria than will turn out to have H1N1,” Dr. Smith said. “Per CDC guidance, we are recommending self-isolation for students that meet these criteria, optimally off-campus, otherwise here.”
Michael Ruderman ’11 was one of several students to recently fall ill.
“On Wednesday of last week, I was getting really bad chills, I had a nasty headache, and I felt dizzy,” he said. “I could just feel I was sick. I went to the training room [for football] and they told me to rest and go home. So I left campus on Thursday afternoon, and came back Monday night. They didn’t want me around the team or other students.”
Although Ruderman is now feeling better, he does not know whether he contracted H1N1 since he never got tested. As an extra precaution, he got the seasonal flu shot at Usdan on Wednesday, and he plans to get vaccinated for H1N1 when doses are distributed.
According to an ongoing American College Health Association (ACHA) study of 267 colleges and universities, a total of 7, 696 new Influenza-like Illness (ILI) cases were reported during the week of Sept. 12. This represents an increase from 6,432 new cases reported the prior week. According to the ACHA, the nationwide “attack rate” for the week of Sept. 12 jumped by 15 percent to 24.7 cases per 10,000 students.
While Wesleyan has managed to keep the number of cases low so far, other universities have been faring much worse. Cornell University has reported more than 600 cases of ILI, and a 20-year-old student died two weeks ago after contracting the H1N1 virus on campus.
“It will take a long time to figure out why [Cornell] had so many cases,” Dr. Smith said. “They have more students to begin with, so that’s one factor. We were talking about it at a meeting the other day, and we concluded that one possibility could be that a few, very popular students came back to school with the flu and spread it to the rest of the campus.”
“We’re going to do what we can to keep our cases low,” he added.
According to Joyce Walter, Director of the Health Center, exactly 600 students have been vaccinated against seasonal influenza through the two flu clinics held at the Usdan University Center on Sept. 21 and 23. This already represents a significant increase in the number of students vaccinated over the past five years, which averaged about 350 students each year. The fourth flu clinic, originally scheduled exclusively for faculty and staff on Oct. 17, will now be open to students.
“Our goal is to have 50 percent of the student body vaccinated against seasonal influenza,” Dr. Smith said. “We’re halfway there.”
Although the seasonal flu vaccine does not offer protection against H1N1, the CDC recommends that college students get vaccinated nonetheless.
“The 15 to 24 age group appears particularly vulnerable to H1N1,” Dr. Davis said. “We particularly want to avoid students having both types of flu at the same time and in general want to give them as much protection from as many kinds of flu as we can.”
As far as the Health Center is aware, the H1N1 vaccine will be available to students in early October. It remains unclear, however, how many doses the University will receive; the number of doses will determine students’ eligibility for the vaccine.
“The fewer the doses, the more those doses will be targeted at high-risk people, like those with asthma,” Dr. Smith said.
“We recognize that this makes some people anxious and frustrated,” he added. “But I hope people will realize how interconnected we are as a community.”