On August 9, the Sunday before the first week of school, Granite Bay High School junior Kevin Hollingshead was expecting to wake up with something similar to the pre-school jitters or the end-of-summer blues.
What he wasn’t expecting was to “wake up feeling awful.”
He had a 103 degree fever, a sore throat, headache, achy muscles and respiratory problems.
“I just woke up and I thought, ‘This isn’t right,’ so I asked (my parents) if I could go to the doctor,” Hollingshead said.
While being seen in the clinic, Hollingshead remembers his doctor evaluating his symptoms and arriving at a rather quick conclusion.
“The doctor said, ‘I’m 99 percent sure you have swine flu. There’s no way it could be anything else, because you have a fever in the middle of August and the flu season hasn’t even come yet,’” Hollingshead said.
The doctor stuck Q-tip-like sticks up his nostrils causing an “awkwardly painful” feeling, and within minutes, he was told by his doctor that he had contracted the H1N1 virus.
H1N1 making headlines
Since the World Health Organization declared the H1N1 virus a pandemic in June, swine flu has received much media attention.
According to the Center for Disease Control, 77 people between the ages of 15 and 24 died before August 21 because of the swine flu. Most of the deaths, however, have occurred in people ages 25 to 49.
Contrary to other strains of influenza, the H1N1 virus affects mainly because young people have not been exposed to strains of flu similar to it. Most people who were born before 1957, the year of the Asian flu pandemic, have immunity to the H1N1 virus.
In the last couple weeks, an 86-page report on swine flu from the White House warned that 90,000 people could potentially die from the H1N1 virus this coming winter. In a usual seasonal flu season, around 36,000 people die from influenza, the report said.
“The good news is, at this point, that it still appears to be a relatively mild influenza and that most people will not need testing, will not need medication and will get over the influenza,” said Dr. Richard Burton, the Placer County Health and Human Services Department director.
Unless the H1N1 virus evolves into a “much more serious” strain and “causes more serious consequences in those that it infects,” schools will remain open, Burton said.
A swine flu vaccine is currently being created by researchers and will hopefully be available in October. Most people, who will receive the vaccination, will be health care providers and people with underlying health issues, said Dr. Dave Herbert, assistant physician-in-chief and an infectious disease specialist at Kaiser Permanente.
“It’s going to be well into November before everybody can get [the vaccine],” Herbert said. “And by then, I think there will be an awful number of people who’ve been sick.”
Fortunately, most young people who become sick from swine flu do not contract a severe illness.
“It looks like the young people who get it are about as sick as they have been with the different types of influenza that have been around before,” Herbert said.
“It’s not worse; it’s just going to be more [people getting sick.]”
Granite Bay High School sophomore Harrison Reagan contracted swine flu at band camp the week before school started.
His symptoms, which lasted about two-and-a-half days, included a headache, a fever of 102 degrees, sneezing and coughing. His doctor instructed him to rest at home for a week so that he wouldn’t spread the virus to other people.
His family was also prescribed Tamiflu, the most commonly used medicine to treat H1N1 so that they would be protected against exposure to the virus.
“On a scale from one to 10, I would probably [rank swine flu a] six,” Reagan said. “It wasn’t really as bad as some flues that I’ve had before.”
Some people, however, who have a history of other health problems including asthma, diabetes, kidney disease and neurological disorders, have a higher risk of contracting a more severe version of the H1N1 virus, said Thu Vo, a pharmacist for Sutter Roseville Hospital.
Vo was present when a young girl who supposedly contracted the H1N1 virus died on August 27.
This young girl had a history of asthma, and once she was admitted to the hospital, her illness had already become very serious.
“The antiviral medication is reserved to treat people with severe cases only, and it’s most effective if you give it within the first 48 hours of exposure,” Vo said.
Most young people who are healthy and who contract the H1N1 virus, recover within a week.
'The people who are primarily spreading it are kids'
Flu season usually starts in late fall or early winter. This year, however, when school started on August 10, the flu season was well underway at Granite Bay High School. Five weeks into the school year, about 92 students had been marked absent due to the flu, Granite Bay High School nurse Linda Warfield said.
Hollingshead is one of twenty GBHS students who tested positive for swine flu while 72 students are suspected to have contracted the virus.
“We know that in all types of influenza, especially this type,” Herbert said, “the people who are primarily spreading it are kids. When they’re back in school and they’re together, they’re going to spread it to each other.”
For the first time since school ended in June, students were back together in large numbers. Many GBHS students contracted the virus the week before school started when the sports teams began conditioning, the band gathered for practices and the freshmen attended Grizzly Retreat orientation.
Swine flu is spread through coughing, sneezing, neglecting to wash hands and sharing food. Therefore, when people come together in a group setting, the virus is spread faster.
“In Public Health, you have to decide where to prioritize your energy and what you ask of a community,” Burton said. “What we’re trying to emphasize is people invest their energy in not reporting each and every case to Public Health but in making sure they’re taking those steps to prevent themselves and their families from becoming ill, and if they are ill, prevent themselves from transmitting it to someone else.”
The Public Health Department is no longer recording the number of swine flu cases since the outbreak. Burton strives to generate community awareness so that people can avoid swine flu.
Burton encourages students who are sick to stay at home when they’re sick and refrain from coming back to school until their fever has gone away without the use of medication for at least 24 hours. He also stresses the importance of covering coughs with tissues, coughing into elbows and remaining aware and alert of the people nearby.
“If you perceive being in an area where other people are ill, move to another situation so that (you) aren’t around people who are ill,” Burton said. “I think we have an opportunity in the community to live differently than we have in past seasonal years, and so we could actually reduce (the) number (of people who get sick) greatly by just adopting some relatively simple measures for ourselves.”
For California student, swine flu no worse than the season flu
Hollingshead was isolated from the rest of his family for a few days following his swine flu confirmation.
“[I] couldn’t leave; [I] couldn’t do anything,” Hollingshead said. “I was on the same couch the whole time. I didn’t move. I just laid there. I wasn’t allowed to move, because I couldn’t get [my brother] sick.”
And though Hollingshead experienced nausea and headaches, he believes that swine flu wasn’t worse than the seasonal flu.
Although he missed the first couple days of AP Physics and AP Calculus, Hollingshead has completely recovered from the swine flu and has since returned to school.
“The first thing I thought,” Hollingshead said, “when [my doctor] said I had swine flu was what a cool story it was going to be.”