August 20th, 2009
11:56 AM ET

Back to School Flus

By Jennifer Adaeze Anyaegbunam
CNN Medical News Intern

This year my back-to-school to do list looks a bit different than it has in previous years. Select senior year courses, check. Purchase school supplies, check. Don’t get swine flu. Um—I’ll try?

Colleges represent a diverse and mobile population. Individuals don’t sleep enough, eat right, practice the best hygiene, or make the healthiest choices. Say you’re at a party, and there is only one used cup left, do you drink from it? In college, too frequently the answer is yes! And if you don’t drink from the dirty red cup, your best friend might. Let’s face it, on campus there are only a few degrees of separation so I’m wondering how I will separate myself from the latest H1N1 viral outbreak.

Swine flu is spread via the same mechanism as regular seasonal influenza. When people with these viruses cough or sneeze the virus is released into the air via tiny in respiratory droplets. You can contract swine flu by coming in contact with these droplets or touching a surface contaminated with these droplets containing the H1N1 virus up to 8 hours after it was deposited.

There were a few cases of swine flu on my campus at the end of last semester. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), avoiding contact with the sick and frequent hand sanitizing can help reduce the risk of spreading the flu. I interviewed some of the members of Harvard’s class of 2009 to find out exactly how swine flu had affected their commencement ceremony, and apparently the seniors I spoke with saw these CDC tips in action. According to graduate Devin Smith, the Dean of the college, “… announced that swine-flu had, in fact, worked its way into Harvard graduation and instructed graduates, family, and friends to refrain from hugging and shaking hands.” Matthew Clair, another recent graduate, noted that everyone at graduation seemed to be coughing and sneezing but, “besides the hand sanitizer they squirted into our hands before we received our diplomas and the general paranoia, graduation proceeded as usual.”

So when I return to campus, will my life proceed as usual too?

Clinical trials for a swine flu vaccine are in progress, and public health officials are hopeful that the swine flu vaccine will be ready for public distribution by mid-October. Due to the number of swine flu cases in my demographic, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has suggested that college-aged students are among the first to get the H1N1 vaccine this fall. The CDC will be updating their recommendations for swine flu prevention and preparedness for institutions of higher learning later today, but so far the organization does not recommend that colleges dismiss lectures or other large gatherings—so unfortunately, summer vacation will not last until mid-October when the vaccine becomes available.

If you do happen to get sick, public health officials recommend that you self-isolate and stay home until at least 24 hours after your fever breaks. Many college students live in dorms so isolation may be difficult. But before you burn all of Sally’s belongings or douse John with holy water you should consult these CDC tips for those living with someone with swine flu.

Exposing yourself to swine flu may seem like the easiest way to build a natural immunity to the H1N1 virus and/or get excused from your midterms. I know the thought has crossed your mind, but don't do it. Swine flu has been mild for many people, but deadly for others– so you should probably devise an alternate, less fatal scheme (or maybe just study).

Until the vaccine becomes available, I hope that for my sake and others’, those living in communal environments practice healthier habits and take active steps to prevent the spread of swine flu. So, always cough or sneeze into your sleeve or a tissue, and if you must drink from the red cup, wash your hands after!

College students, will you be getting vaccinated? Do you think this vaccine should be required for all those living in communal environments?

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.

soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. Christy Mann-Iiames

    Thank you for this timely blog as my son heads back to Texas A&M. Your writing style is "informative with a smile" and may encourage college students to be a little more careful about "Swine Flu"
    Thanks again,
    Christy Mann-Iiames

    August 20, 2009 at 12:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. CE

    no swine flu cases at Georgis State but with all these crazy feshman coming in who knows. Well done....again

    August 20, 2009 at 14:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Jefe

    I am by no means an anti-vaccine maniac, but I do have to question the sanity in college students getting a vaccine for a relatively mild disease (H1N1 influenza – or even moreso, "regular" seasonal influenza).

    Vaccines consist of two basic components – Antigen (virus, whether weakened, deactivated, etc.) and Adjuvant. While there are varying opinions as to the dangers inherent in vaccines, one thing is known for certain: The adjuvant is a toxin; that's its purpose. To be toxic, and ilicit an increased immune system response, increasing the efficacy of the vaccine. The adjuvant being manufactured into the H1N1 vaccine is Squalene, which several studies have found ample evidence to suggest its implication in Gulf War Syndrome through its use in the Anthrax vaccine given to soldiers both deployed and those who never deployed to the middle east.

    That being said, for a rapidly-changing, low-fatality disease like influenza, which is easily treatable and relatively preventable, is it really worth injecting Squalene or other dangerous compounds into your body? I think people need to take more personal responsibility for their health, rather than live recklessly and depend on vaccines/medications to keep themselves alive and well.

    August 20, 2009 at 15:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Dada

    Interesting article Adaeze.I really hope the vaccines wud get to Africa early enough especially for school children as the level of awareness&education is appalling in these more than often departed parts.

    August 20, 2009 at 19:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Dr. William Young

    Dr. Young wishes that Dr. Gupta would point out that there already are "death panels" similar to what Sarah Palin is threatening under Obama's reform only now they exist under benign names like "utilization review boards" by managed care/insurance companies like the one that denied a teen cancer treatment recently only to overturn the decision when the press was involved. Unfortunately, it was too late and the patient died a day or so after the delayed approval!

    August 21, 2009 at 15:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. AMA

    Check out this video where AMA physicians answer patient questions about health system reform and debunk some of the myths that are still out there. http://www.hsreform.org

    August 21, 2009 at 21:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Darci Jones

    I have been in the medical industry on the billing side for over 20 years. The true problem of our healthcare crisis is not nor do I believe ever will be addressed and fixed until we either make all insurance carriers NON PROFIT or at the very least require accountability. Example: two BlueCard programs – both state to their members (patients) that Speech Therapy and Occupational Therapy are a covered benefit. What they fail to tell the patient is that you cannot go to a speech therapist or an occupational therapist and get coverage, you are required to see an MD. The utter audacity of these carriers to tell me that they will not pay the claim because a speech therapist is submitting it shows the power that they have. When I questioned the carrier they advised me that there are several types of "doctors" they would pay speech therapy benefits, here are some of them OBGYN, Nurse Practitioner, MIDWIFE, IPT. This is total fraud yet they continue to get away with this type of practice and I can give you so many more examples. There are two major changes that must be made HEALTH INSURANCE REFORM and, although the politicians have a nice way of skirting the issue, quit giving healthcare to illegals. Illegals may not get INSURANCE but my tax dollars do pay for their health care!!!!

    August 23, 2009 at 15:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Neal Whitaker

    There is a serious out break of H!N! on the University of Kansas campus in Lawrence, Kansas and no news organization is reporting it. Word is half of the Kappa house has it and my step daughter has it. She had a 2 hour wait at the clinic this afternoon. Everyone in the clinic were wearing masks Reportedly this has been going going on for a couple of weeks

    August 23, 2009 at 21:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. dave in des moines

    Is it true we pump tons of antibiotics into our livestock such as hogs, chickens, and cattle? When we eat those meats, do our bodies build immunity to those same pathogens? Is it true since we have corporate stocks with many animals living in close proximity, new pathogens can spread very fast among the animals. Since we pump so much antibiotics into the animals, pathogens simply mutates into new diseases. Whenever we have these farms near populated areas, these pathogens have the opportunity to spread to humans. Some meat such as those from hogs is simply not good for us as in terms of healthy nutritious foods. Some meat may be better for us such as chicken or fish. If we ate better foods such as fish, could this result in less mega hog farms around the world placed near populated areas. Are we pumping too much antibiotics that are causing new pathogens to be created by mutation? Could new bird flu pathogens mutate to the human population due to the same reasons as this nasty H1N1 was created. Should we reanalyze our approach to antibiotics given to our livestock and where we place our mega farms? Should we eat better foods such as fish to reduce the numbers of these mega livestock farms around the world?

    August 26, 2009 at 11:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Jefe

    dave is des moines: I can answer one of your questions...I myself have wondered what effect, if any, consuming antiobiotic-laced animals has on us.

    As far as antibiotics strengthening pathogens, it would definitely stand to reason that they help to build stronger, antibiotic-resistant pathogens, but, Antiobiotics only affect bacteria, not viruses, so it wouldn't have anything to do with the H1N1 virus.

    Also, pork is actually thought to be one of the better-for-you meats. Typically, unless you're eating the big chunks of fat on the edge of a cut (or bacon, of course), the portion you eat is much lower in saturated fats than many other meats. Fish is good, only so long as it isn't heavily contaminated as many fish are (I believe even the FDA recommends not eating tuna more than once or twice a month due to mercury concerns).

    August 26, 2009 at 14:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Robert Archer

    Key flu advice: Don’t touch your face!

    As Richard Wenzel (Past President of the Infectious Diseases Society of America) says: “Be aware that the H1N1 virus can live on objects, like a phone or computer mouse, for a few hours. The key is to not rub your nose, mouth, or eyes until you've washed or disinfected your hands.”

    It is so tragic that most people don’t know, and aren’t being warned enough, about the danger of touching their eyes for example. You might be a faithful hand washer, but what if you’re on a subway that pauses at a station and you let go of the handrail to casually rub a watery or itchy eye? Gotcha! Or shake the hand of someone who just sneezed into it, then you rub your eye? Gotcha!

    It's easy to say "Wash your hands frequently", but just think of all the things a schoolchild touches each day for example and you'll soon conclude that hand washing alone is not going to stop the spread of H1N1. As one kindergarten teacher commented online: "I spent a week washing/disinfecting toys and manipulatives in my classroom this August. There is no way that I can wash all the toys that the children touch twice everyday!"

    I find it mind-boggling that, while there are ample health warnings to wash your hands frequently and thoroughly, there are relatively few warnings to keep your hands away from your face. So you enter a hospital, you use the hand sanitizer inside the front door, then you start touching doors, elevator buttons, etc. with no warnings posted about the dangers of touching your eyes, etc. That is professional negligence of the highest order.

    NOW is the time to start educating everyone, young and old, not to touch their eyes, nose and mouth with unclean hands. If you stay healthy, that will help others stay healthy too!

    September 22, 2009 at 16:01 | Report abuse | Reply
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