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Behind the Scenes of H1N1

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The story behind the story of swine flu and college campuses

Behind the Scenes – Novel H1N1 Goes to School

It was a given that the September issue of the River Journal would contain a story about swine flu, because September, when kids go back to school, is when flu season tends to begin in the United States. With a new flu making the rounds, the real story of swine flu would begin to be unveiled this month.

Reporters do not live in a vacuum. Just like you we have families, volunteer in our communities, do the laundry and the dishes and try to keep up with the mail. As I began to write this story, my own real life began to intrude.

In mid-August, I took my youngest daughter, Amy, down to Lewiston, Idaho for her first year at Lewis Clark State College. Shortly thereafter, Washington State University began reporting its first swine flu cases on their campus in Pullman.

Pullman is only about 30 miles from Lewiston.

By week two in the LCSC dorms, Amy, along with her roommates, was sick. Her symptoms began on Thursday… on Saturday, I arrived in Lewiston – not because my little girl was sick, but because David was attending a volleyball clinic in Lewiston that day, and I had arranged to ride with he and the other refs from this area so that I could visit Amy and take her all the things she had forgotten at home that she would need down there at school.

By Saturday, her symptoms were relatively mild, though she told me, “Yesterday, I hardly ever got out of bed. I did get up once but I was so dizzy I just went back to bed.”

I bought her groceries for the dorm room, DayQuil for her congestion, made sure she was stocked up on Tylenol and orange juice. She was hungry and didn’t seem to be running a fever, so I didn’t let my well-known ability to panic take over and insist she return home with me.

Like many students, Amy never even got in touch with Student Health Services. If she had, she would not have been tested for Influenza A – it’s too expensive to test every student. So we don’t know whether she has experienced a bout of swine flu or not.

Still, this experience raised a lot of questions, most of which I still don’t have answers to. 

College/University response to swine flu has been “stay in your room except for necessary trips to Student Health Services.” So for those in dorms… what about those meal cards we were required to buy? Should they go to the canteen to eat? (Obviously not.) Who is going to feed them when they’re too sick to do it themselves? (And the corollary – is this why you ‘starve a fever?’ Because you’re too sick to do anything else?) Who is going to check in on them and make sure they haven’t suddenly gotten sicker? Amy’s dorm is five blocks from the campus – all uphill. What if she’s too sick to walk that far to Student Health Services? These, you see, are the kinds of things a parent thinks about. Okay, worries about.

WSU in Pullman is called by USA Today the “hardest hit” campus in the US, but three-quarters of US colleges and universities are reporting outbreaks of “influenza symptoms.” What’s going on at your student’s college? Good luck finding out. There’s a little bit of information but many schools are simply not making this information available. Lewis Clark, for example, says on their website (updated 10 September) “The global situation changes daily. Currently, there are no confirmed cases of the Swine Flu at Lewis-Clark State College and no suspected cases that we know of.” They have plenty of students in Amy’s dorm alone with flu symptoms, and the CDC says that almost all influenza cases right now are swine flu. But LCSC says they have no suspected cases. Right. (By the way, if you want to find this information on their website, you’ll have to do a search for ‘flu.’ They don’t have any readily visible links.)

The University of Idaho at Moscow (just across the line from Pullman) has a swine flu link on their homepage. But it doesn’t say anything about the current situation on campus. KBOI news reports approximately 50 students a day reporting to Student Health Services with flu symptoms.

Washington State University is publishing a blog with daily updates on their flu situation. You can read it here. North Idaho College also has a weekly updated H1N1 site here.

I couldn’t say whether it will matter or not in the long run, but Idaho is no longer funding testing for swine flu, and Idaho colleges are not participating in voluntary reporting of cases.

So as the parent of a college student, is there anything to do besides worry? Make sure your students know to report to Student Health Services if they develop symptoms and have any underlying condition – like asthma or diabetes – that puts them at higher risk of complications. And make sure they know to also report if they have a fever of 102 degrees or higher.

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Landon Otis

Tagged as:

education, health, college, H1N1, swine flu, Lewis Clark State College, Washington State University, University of Iaho

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