In response to a growing number of reported cases of swine flu on college campuses, a trio of U.S. health officials hosted a conference call Friday with several college newsrooms to discuss methods to limit the spread of the disease.
U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius was joined by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Dr. Beth Bell of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in saying that the best treatment for the disease is prevention.
Duncan said that swine flu, known formally as H1N1, needs to be taken seriously to minimize the impact on the education process that a spread of the new influenza strain could have.
""We want colleges to be part of the solution,"" Duncan said. ""There has been remarkable partnership with agencies and the public. We all have collaborated to work hard.""
The trio, speaking on behalf of their respective institutions, advocated three primary ways to control the spread of the virus: prevention, close monitoring and common sense.
Duncan described a number of easy ways to prevent getting or spreading H1N1: wash your hands thoroughly, sneeze into your sleeve, practice social isolation when sick, keep your dorm rooms clean, do not attend class when sick and do not return to class until 24 hours after your fever breaks.
Bell said that this flu season has begun much earlier than normal, and that nearly all cases are H1N1. Flu has been reported in all 50 states but the highest numbers of incidents are in the southeast. She added that emergency room visits and activity in universities' health services departments for flu have increased, with 21 states reporting widespread influenza activity on college campuses.
Bell said college students are advised to receive the H1N1 vaccine when it becomes available in October. One dose will be sufficient as young people have robust immune systems.
Antiviral treatment is available for those in high-risk groups, including women who are pregnant, those with lung or heart problems, asthma or diabetes. if you are in a high-risk group and get sick, contact a doctor immediately to see whether you should get antivirals, Bell said.
""H1N1 is so dangerous because it is a new strain of flu and we can't be sure it won't mutate into something more virulent,"" Sebelius said. ""Fortunately, the vaccines that we have been preparing since April are just as effective on the flu now as it was then. This is one way of indicating that the flu is in the same form as it has been for the past five months.""
The best protection by far, Sebelius said, is the vaccine, adding that Congress has made H1N1 awareness a major campaign at the request of President Barack Obama. Sebelius said that inoculating as many people as possible is one way to prevent its spread.
Bell said CDC statistics show more people dying from seasonal flu each year than have died from H1N1. She said one thing to be concerned about when comparing the seasonal flu with H1N1 is that the seasonal flu attacks those above the age of 65, while H1N1 mainly affects people under the age of 25.
There is no general suggestion for when colleges would have to consider stopping classes if an outbreak happens, Bell said. She said the policy on those decisions must be made locally, in consultation with local health officials and the university as a whole. Each university must look at its own capacities on a case-by-case basis.
""It is important that people take this seriously,"" Sebelius said. ""The economic and social impact of having millions of Americans miss work for 3-5 days, or of kids getting sick and their parents having to miss work involves the potential of businesses losing potential workers and workforces that can't have continuity of business with so many employees sick. People need to do the little things to prevent the spread of H1N1.""
UA Campus Health Services will acquire the vaccine in October. Campus Health's Web site strongly encourages students who think they have symptoms of H1N1 flu — fever over 102 degrees, body aches, sore throat, cough and runny nose, and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea — to stay home and call either a Campus Health Triage Nurse at (520) 621-6490 or the Campus Health After-Hours On Call Provider at (520) 570-7898.