University combats H1N1

The H1N1 influenza virus is currently making a minor appearance at Tech this semester, but a vaccine was approved by the Food and Drug Administration Tuesday night. With students vigilantly implementing the University health guidelines, they should also be aware when the vaccine will be available on campus.

“It was scheduled for mid-October originally, but it could come earlier or later,” Randy Tompkins, supervisor for the J.J. Oakley Campus Health Services, said. “The regular flu shots will still cost students, but the vaccine will be provided to students for free by the federal government.”

But, according to Tuesday’s FDA press release, the vaccine is scheduled to become available within the next four weeks.

Until the vaccine becomes available, the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the use of antiviral drugs, such as oseltamivir and zanamivir. During the current pandemic, the priority for these drugs is to treat severe influenza cases.

“We have had eight confirmed cases of the virus on campus,” Tompkins said. “We have a minimal outbreak.” The eight reported cases on campus were treated and the afflicted students returned to class. But, despite Tech’s few cases of H1N1, the CDC listed Tennessee as experiencing a “widespread” outbreak.

And if the outbreak becomes severe enough, Tech campus could close for a period of time. However, Tompkins asserts closing campus is unlikely.

“It would require a significant number of cases,” Tompkins said. “20 to 30 percent has been suggested, but that is not set in stone. A closing could happen earlier, but it also depends on the surrounding area. This is a day-to-day situation.”

The illness associated with H1N1 ranges from mild to severe. The CDC stated most people who acquired the virus recovered without needing medical treatment, but some hospitalizations and deaths occurred.

In an effort to address the situation, Health Services offered a webcast this past Tuesday.

“This webcast was just to make the campus aware of where we are at,” Tompkins said. “We want people to keep doing what they are doing.”

Of the people hospitalized nationwide, 70 percent had a previously existing medical condition that would put them into a “high risk” category, according to the CDC. The previous medical conditions that induced a “high risk” included pregnancy, diabetes, heart disease, asthma, and kidney disease.

H1N1 symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, fatigue, diarrhea, and vomiting. Because H1N1 shares many of the same symptoms as seasonal allergies, Tompkins suggests placing more concern on certain symptoms.

“The first thing to look for is a fever of 100 degrees or higher, not the low grade stuff,” Tompkins said. “Body aches are the next to watch for.”

Signs throughout campus list the symptoms and warn people who may think they are infected to remain in residence. These precautions include allowing students to remain out of class.

“I think as a whole, it’s been a good response on campus,” Tompkins said.

The specific precautions produced by Health Service for Tech will remain in effect for an undetermined amount of time.

“This has to be individualized and on a school by school basis,” Tompkins said. “Some schools are more residential and some are more mobile. As long as we continue to have significant numbers of cases, we will keep them in place.”

As with the seasonal flu, the virus spreads through coughing and sneezing. In addition, a person can contract H1N1 by touching an infected surface, then touching the mouth or nose.

“There is no way to tell where it was contracted,” Tompkins said, referring to the known cases on campus.

Drinking water cannot transfer the virus, if the water meets federal standards for cleaning and treatment. According to the CDC, there has never been a documented case of influenza virus infection associated with water exposure.

Tips for staying healthy, found on both Tech’s and the CDC’s Web sites, advise the use of sanitary wipes when touching objects in public. However, Tech does not plan to provide these wipes in buildings on campus.

“You don’t need the wipes if you use the hand sanitizer,” Tompkins said, mentioning the hand sanitizing stations around campus. “We have 10,000 students on campus and only eight cases. What we are doing is having some effect.”

For more information regarding H1N1, both the CDC and Tech offer tips for combating H1N1 and prevention on their Web sites.