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Panic May Be Best Prevention for H1N1

by Delisa O'Brien


Is the H1N1 virus really something to panic about?
The start of the 2009 flu season brought with it a new strain of the influenza virus, H1N1, or as it is more commonly known, the swine flu. As with most new ailments, H1N1 incited a nationwide panic when the first American death was reported in April. Since that point, Americans have taken extra precautions to protect themselves from the virus, including hoarding antiviral drugs, wearing face masks, and lining up to receive the fairly new H1N1 vaccination. However, in a country where, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the seasonal flu kills approximately 36,000 Americans each year, is the H1N1 virus really something to panic about?

With the start of the 2009-2010 school year, parents brought their children to campus with animosity. Would their children be safe from the virus while living in a dormitory that is normally a breeding ground for germs? To help protect the student body and staff and to accommodate the rush, Student Health Services began Seasonal “Flu” Vaccination Clinics. In all, there were four clinics administering the seasonal flu shot between September 17th and October 1st and for those who couldn’t make it to any of the four clinics, personal appointments were available.

In addition to the administering the vaccine, hand sanitizer dispensers were installed all over campus by Administrative and Environmental Services. They can be seen in areas of high student traffic such as the Brower Student Center, Eickhoff Hall, and the library. Flu.gov, a comprehensive government-wide information site, lists washing hands or using an alcohol-based hand cleanser as an effective protection against the influenza virus.

However, even with such precautions in place, the cases of students contracting possible cases H1N1 flu rose as Student Health Services waited for their shipment of the new H1N1 vaccine. “We count cases of influenza-like illness (ILI) not H1N1,” said Janice Vermeychuk, director of Student Health Services at The College of New Jersey. “The U.S. Department of Health Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) definition for ILI is fever of 100 degrees or more and cough or sore throat. Since the week ending August 29, 2009, we have seen 248 students in Student Health Services with ILI.” With a student body of about 5,600, that’s only 4%.

One such student, sophomore Annu Thareja, went to Student Health Services on a Monday when she began showing ILI symptoms. With a fever of 101 degrees and a cough she was ordered to go home where she stayed for almost a week until her fever subsided. Thareja did not receive either flu vaccination but says that she has changed her mind about getting vaccinate. “I hate being sick because for one, I missed a lot of school work and two, it's just terrible.”

Once Student Health Services received their shipment of the H1N1 vaccine and intranasal FluMist, they once again set up vaccination clinics on campus. “To date, 1,016 students, staff, faculty and Sodexho employees have been vaccinated, the majority of whom were students,” said Vermeychuk. That’s only 18% of students and faculty who received the H1N1 vaccine.

At one vaccination clinic, a few students and faculty were interviewed about why they came to get the shot. A few of them fell into the “high risk” category, one girl admitted that her mother told her to get it, and a history professor felt that it was very important to get all preventative vaccinations.

“In this case, one of the prevention strategies is vaccination and in fact, the CDC says that vaccination is the best prevention against the flu,” said Vermeychuk. To date, it is approximated that no more than 3,000 people have died from the H1N1 swine flu in the six months since its appearance according to the CDC. Perhaps panic can be named among the preventative measures.

For more information on the influenza virus or the H1N1 virus, visit Flu.gov or the CDC’s H1N1 Flu information page http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/.

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