Texas State University-San Marcos, like many college campuses across the country, is experiencing an increase in flu-like illness. Last week the Student Health Center reported 127 flu-like cases compared to 80 cases the previous week. We are aware that students are concerned that absence due to the flu might adversely affect their academic standing. This concern is leading many students to ignore public health recommendations for isolation and contributing to the spread of flu to others. Academic Affairs has distributed a message to the campus community articulating the expectation that professors adjust their absence and grading policies to accommodate a medical absence. Students falsifying information about a medical absence are violating the Student Code of Conduct and may be subject to disciplinary sanctions. Students with a flu-like illness should contact the Student Health Center [(512) 245-2167] for self-care advice or an appointment. Students needing assistance in notifying professors about a medical absence may contact the Dean of Students Office at (512) 245-2124 or Associate Dean of Students Vincent Morton, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Isn’t it true that H1N1 flu is no worse than the regular seasonal flu?
It is true that H1N1 flu results in mild to moderate illness in most persons, but it is disproportionately infecting 5-24 year olds and causing a greater proportion of hospitalizations and deaths in this age group than would be expected with the seasonal flu. Seasonal flu usually kills the elderly and young children. H1N1 flu is killing children, adolescents and adults. Sixteen percent of H1N1 flu deaths are occurring in 5-24 year olds. Forty-one percent of deaths are occurring in 25-49 year olds. Twenty-four percent of deaths are occurring in 50-64 year olds. So, eighty-one percent of deaths from H1N1 flu are occurring in persons that normally would recover from a flu infection.
Is there a vaccine available for H1N1 flu?
A vaccine for H1N1 flu has been developed and is currently undergoing human trials. The early report is that H1N1 vaccine will probably be effective with just one shot and the side effects are similar to those of the seasonal flu—mild soreness at the injection site and sometimes a very mild fever. The H1N1 vaccine will be available in October. Vaccinations will be prioritized for healthcare personnel, pregnant women, children, young adults and those with medical problems that increase their risk for complications from the flu. It may take several months to get everyone vaccinated. This means that some people will not be protected against H1N1 flu until late in the fall.
Are there effective medications for H1N1 flu?
Two medications, Tamiflu and Relenza, have been shown to be effective against H1N1 flu. However, public health authorities are recommending that these medications be used only in serious cases and to protect those at high risk for complications from the flu. To make matters worse, there is already some resistance developing to Tamiflu. This medication makes up the largest portion of the medication in the Federal stockpile. If resistance develops to Tamiflu, then most of the stockpiled medication may not be effective. It is also important to note that Relenza cannot be used in persons with underlying airway disease and is recommended only for persons aged 7 and older.
Will staying home and avoiding contact with others really make that much of a difference?
Scientists and others who have studied the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic discovered that social distancing was an effective way of slowing down the spread of the virus. Social distancing refers to taking steps such as cancelling large gatherings and events, closing schools, staggering work schedules to decrease employee contact, and having people work from home. Philadelphia ignored the social distancing recommendations of public health authorities and proceeded with a large parade. Within days of the parade an outbreak of the flu occurred in Philadelphia killing thousands of people. St. Louis, on the other hand, heeded the recommendations and never had a large outbreak of the flu and didn’t see the same high number of deaths. If students follow public health recommendations, we can slow down the spread of H1N1 flu and avoid a large outbreak on campus. We want to be a St. Louis—not a Philadelphia!
Why is it important for students and others to follow public health recommendations on H1N1 flu?
While many students will experience only mild to moderate symptoms of the flu, if they go to class or work when sick, they may be exposing others who are more vulnerable to the flu. Even if a person infected with H1N1 flu feels better within a few days, they may be infectious for up to seven days. Pregnant women and persons with medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart and lung disease, and suppressed immune systems are very vulnerable and are experiencing more serious consequences and higher rates of death. We have lots of people on this campus that are at higher risk for complications from the flu. Students need to do their part to prevent the spread of flu and to protect those that are more vulnerable.
How likely is it that the university would close due to H1N1 flu?
We normally have a flu season that extends from January through April. This year the flu season has begun in late August and will likely extend through the fall and spring. This means that we may have many more students infected with the flu than usual. It also means that we are likely to see much more absenteeism. If we do not slow down the spread of H1N1 flu by following the self-isolation recommendations, we could have a large outbreak on campus that could lead to the cancellation of classes and large events. Access to healthcare might be difficult and more people may have complications because they cannot get in to see a doctor.
What can you say to students that are concerned about missing school due to H1N1 flu?
Students should not be concerned that they will be penalized academically for a necessary absence due to infection with the flu. A message was sent early in the fall semester to all faculty members notifying them that H1N1 flu is being reported on campus and that we anticipate many students becoming ill due to H1N1 flu. Faculty are aware that students will be asked to self-isolate for 3-5 days in most cases. Faculty are also aware that most students with mild illness will not need to see the doctor or need antiviral medication—but they will need to stay home until fever-free for at least 24 hours. Only students that are very ill and seen at the Student Health Center will have signed medical excuses. Academic Affairs has also sent a message to the campus community articulating the importance of adhering to public health recommendations and establishing the expectation that faculty will adjust absence and grading policies to accommodate a medical absence.
Is it true that some students are not being tested or treated for H1N1 flu?
The current CDC recommendations call for testing for H1N1 in predominantly the seriously ill, those hospitalized, and persons that are part of a public health investigation. The CDC has been testing specimens from across the country and 99 percent are H1N1 virus. So, if someone develops flu-like illness, it is likely to be H1N1 flu. Because resistance is already developing to Tamiflu, the CDC recommends treating only those that are seriously ill, hospitalized, or those with medical problems such as asthma, diabetes, heart and lung disease, pregnancy or suppressed immune systems that put them at higher risk for complications from the flu.
H1N1 influenza vaccine will be offered to students and other priority groups as defined by the CDC beginning in October. Details of outreach events for H1N1 influenza will be posted as soon as available.