University prepares for swine flu ‘surge’

As the new school year begins, Student Health Services (SHS) prepares for a flu season that will likely include many cases of the H1N1 influenza, commonly known as the swine flu, said Dr. Egilda Terenzi, director of SHS.

“Our efforts are multi-targeted and multi-leveled,” Terenzi said. “Things will hit us more into the flu season and we are working hard to try and stay ahead of the curve.”

Terenzi said she expects a steep increase in the need for care with many swine flu cases in addition to seasonal flu cases.

“We expect such a surge that no place will be able to keep up with it, so a lot of care will be over the phone,” Terenzi said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the largest number of confirmed swine flu cases have occurred in people between the ages of 5 and 24, putting college students at a high risk of contracting it.

In July, SHS reported three USF student cases of swine flu. Those students have recovered though.

Terenzi described swine flu as “very, very infectious.”

“It can spread as far in six weeks as most flu viruses spread in six months,” she said.

Earlier this month, SHS sent a letter to every faculty member, urging them to help limit outbreaks by advising ill-appearing students to visit SHS and not attend class until well.

USF also asked teachers to include procedures in the event of the school closing, Terenzi said.

Those procedures include class work being conducted through “Blackboard, Elluminate, Skype, e-mail messaging and/or an alternate schedule.”

Students were told to monitor the USF Web site for updates during an emergency.

Terenzi said informative letters were also sent to incoming residential students asking them to include thermometers in their packing lists.

“Students don’t come to school with a thermometer and they need one, because temperature is the deciding factor in determining which cases are the flu,” Terenzi said.

The flu has a sudden onset accompanied by a fever of more than 100.4 degrees, while a cold has a gradual onset and rarely includes a significant fever, Terenzi said.

The only way to distinguish swine flu from the seasonal flu is through extensive testing with results that often come in after the patient has recovered, according to Terenzi.

If a vaccine becomes available in mid-October, USF would have to be on the CDC’s priority list in order to acquire doses of it, she said.

“We are still waiting to hear from the CDC and the Florida Department of Health,” Terenzi said. “But if it is available here, it will be free.”

Menna Yassin, a junior majoring in civil engineering, said she might get the vaccine if she has time.

“It’s just a regular flu,” she said. “People are freaking out for no reason.”

But Ingrid Avendano, a senior majoring in accounting, said she was a “little” worried.

“Everyone lives close together so it would be easy to catch from someone,” Avendano said.

SHS’ “H1N1 Mitigation Campaign” could include the distribution of pocket-sized cards with small thermometers attached. Terenzi said the University is still figuring out how much that would cost.

SHS will be posting stickers and posters around campus and in residential halls, she said.

The University created a Web site designated for the swine flu, Fliers regarding swine flu prevention and symptoms are available for download.

“Pump & Rub” stickers posted throughout campus will promote hand washing, Terenzi said.

“(Swine flu) will not be stopped easily,” she said. “All we can do is give info that we hope people follow.”