The H1N1 virus, the same strain of swine flu that claimed more than 200,000 lives in 2009 according to a World Health Organization estimate, is back, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The virus, which has many of the same symptoms of regular influenza but can lead to more serious complications such as respiratory failure and neurological complications, such as seizures and confusion, according to the Mayo Clinic, has a death toll of two already in Pasco County this season and has hundreds hospitalized nationally.
With students returning to school from areas across the country, USF Student Health Services Director Joseph Puccio said he advises getting this year’s flu shot, which protects against the H1N1 strain.
“It is an international school, and we do have people coming back from all over the world and all over different parts of the country,” he said. “What happens is there are other areas of the country that may have a higher prevalence of the virus going on. They may be exposed and they may be bringing it to us here. That’s what happens when you have people coming in and out.”
Puccio said no confirmed cases have been reported at USF, but the virus spreads more quickly in areas of colder temperatures with poorer ventilation, and with temperatures dipping, Puccio said additional concerns may be present.
“The thing that’s kind of concerning for the college environment is that when the H1N1 epidemic happened a couple years ago we noticed there was a predilection to young adults,” he said. “They got hit pretty hard with it and there were some that had some pretty significant consequences as a result of the virus. It makes it pretty concerning for the college-age and young adult populations. We see it’s hitting those populations that usually don’t get hit too hard.”
There are several other precautions students can take, he said, to make sure the virus, which is spread via respiratory droplets, is contained — particularly through keeping hands clean.
“The best thing to do is hand hygiene, hand hygiene and hand hygiene. Make sure you wash your hands thoroughly — after you touch door knobs, after you shake people’s hands,” he said. “If you cough, try not to cough into your hand, but more in the flexion of your elbow or in areas that wouldn’t come in contact with another person.”