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.

August 12th, 2009
10:49 AM ET

Ivy League women get offers for their eggs

By Jennifer Adaeze Anyaegbunam
CNN Medical Intern

One night, during one of my late study sessions at Harvard, my two best friends were kidding about donating their eggs to raise money for a student organization. Over the years we have seen a number of ads on Facebook and in our school paper seeking students’ eggs in exchange for tens of thousands of dollars. Economically speaking, when times are hard, Harvard women can rely on an ovarian stimulus plan.

“Oh, the investment bank fell through? That’s okay; I’ll just donate a few eggs,” one of them joked. “Fantastic! We can use your unborn children as our platinum sponsors,” the other replied.

While they weren’t being serious, there are people out there willing pay for an educated woman’s eggs, and when lofty compensation is involved some students are eager to donate. In the decade of the “designer baby,” it seems fairly obvious why prospective parents prioritize intelligence on their genetic shopping lists. Depending on specific fertility needs, aspiring parents seek out smart genes through both egg and sperm donation. Men are not compensated nearly as much as much as women because sperm donation is relatively quick and simple. In fact, men get only about $50, but some lucky ones, with Ph.D.s and graduate degrees, can get up to $100. For women, the egg donation process requires a number of medical exams, weeks of hormone treatments and a surgical procedure for retrieval of oocytes, or eggs. The entire process takes a total of 60 hours and carries a number of risks, such as ovarian hyperstimulation, bruising or hemorrhaging, and even the risk of infertility.

Despite lucrative offers for eggs in college newspapers, compensation for egg donation should reflect the inconvenience and discomforts associated with the procedure, and not personal characteristics, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. The ASRM’s Ethics Committee Report, published in 2007, states that “Total payments to donors in excess of $5,000 require justification and sums above $10,000 are not appropriate”. According to a survey of Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology participating egg donation programs, the national average for compensation was $4,200.

A number of egg donor agencies across the country have signed agreements, promising to follow the ethical guidelines outlined by the ASRM. There are several, however, that have not. These agencies and prospective oocyte recipients often place private advertisements in college newspapers offering compensation far beyond the ASRM’s recommendations. In 1999, a California based company, A Perfect Match, placed a $50,000 advertisement in The Crimson, Harvard’s College newspaper. In 2007 Elite Donors ran a $100,000 advertisement in the Crimson as well, according to the paper’s staff.  More recently, similar agencies have taken advantage of Facebook advertising, which allows solicitors to target females attending specific colleges. Only those who meet specific profile criteria are “eligible” to see the ad. Imagine being targeted as a suitable candidate while taking the “What animal is your Patronus quiz” on Facebook — ironic, right?

As a Harvard undergrad “eligible” to see these sorts of advertisements, I do have a few concerns. First, large payments are quite seductive and could cause a potential egg donor to discount risks to her health. Financial inducement may cause potential donors to disregard the emotional and psychological effects of having a child somewhere out there. Secondly, ASRM guidelines function to eliminate the purchase and sale of biological products. Payments are strictly meant to compensate for the medical inconveniences of an altruistic act. Because I attend a certain school, is my genetic material really worth more than yours? Is it really altruism if I can “make it rain” after donating eggs?

Most people want smart babies, but intelligence is not simply inherited from one’s biological mother. Yes some people are born with inherent talents, but most experts agree that we are all products of nature and nurture. Ivy parents don’t always have Ivy babies and vice versa. Therefore, I encourage prospective parents willing to pay such high prices not to be too disappointed if little Sally or John doesn’t turn out to be the brightest crayon in the box. (No refunds, returns, or credit!) Neither of my parents went to Harvard, but they did teach me how to read and the importance of hard work…for free.

If this Harvard gig doesn’t work out for me, at least I have about 300,000 nest eggs to fall back on.

What do you think – is it right to offer women with certain characteristics so much money for their eggs? Where do you draw the line between positively selecting for these characteristics, and eugenics? Do you think the financial compensation of oocyte donors should be regulated?

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.

About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.