The H1N1 virus, or swine flu, is already setting records across the country. Local governments and schools are preparing citizens of all ages for the potential pandemic.
Beginning with the outbreak at Washington State University, local institutions catering to students and children have been compelled to enforce policies to prevent further outbreaks. The University of Washington has created an ‘Alert’ website to inform students of symptoms, prevention and what to do in case of emergency relating to H1N1 occurrences.
After H1N1-related school closures in the last flu season, local schools have lowered the severity of their response and are focusing on preventative action that does not interrupt education.
A special press conference for students
In attempts to further inform students within the schools, a recent press conference was held by Dr. Jeff Duchin, Chief of Communicable Disease for Public Health in King County.
Directed toward student publications, the conference brought awareness and clarification to several key aspects of the potential H1N1 outbreak.
The conference began with the basics; the H1N1 virus is a mutation of the more common yearly respiratory flu, first appearing last year. Duchin says the swine flu will likely affect more than normally infected by the yearly flu, in excess of 15 percent of the population.
The Mayo Clinic reports on its website that “swine flu symptoms develop three to five days after you're exposed to the virus and continue for about eight days, starting one day before you get sick and continuing until you've recovered.” These symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, body and headache, chills, fatigue, diarrhea and vomiting.
At first sight of these symptoms, schools are prompted to quarantine students. John Theiler, a freshman at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott Arizona, was one of the first on campus to have confirmed H1N1. He says “the symptoms were moderate but long lasting and I was quarantined to prevent other kids from getting it.”
How swine flu affects young people
Unlike the yearly flu, most affected by the H1N1 virus is the age group 5-17 years, followed by the group 0-5 years. People over 65 show a strong resistance to the virus and cases in this age group are rare.
The younger age group is already showing the outbreak potential of H1N1. On November 7, 82 percent of middle schools in King County had 10 percent absence rates which have been rising proportionally to reported instances of flu like illness.
Although these absence rates include the normal flu and cold viruses, Duchin suspects the number will climb as the highly contagious H1N1 virus spreads.
“I am just trying to avoid anyone who looks sick, but so far I haven’t seen many” says Ellen Farber, a student at the University of Washington Bothell, “I think the swine flu isn’t going to be as bad as everyone thinks.”
The best form of prevention is the H1N1 Flu Vaccine, which is arriving to King County at a rate of 10,000 doses per week. By exposing the body to small amounts of the virus and therefore building immunity, the H1N1 vaccine is most effective for preventing occurrence of H1N1. Duchin also suggests avoiding contact with sick people, washing hands frequently, staying home if sick and not sharing food or drink.
The Center for Disease Control reports that mortality rates for the H1N1 virus remain below one percent of those affected.
Duchin says this one percent is likely to have more impact due to the high volume of ill people. The Mayo Clinic stresses the fact that most infected people suffer mild to severe flu symptoms no worse than the yearly flu.
The CDC recommends staying home at the first sign of illness, especially if you work with children under 17.
With vaccines becoming more available and diligent efforts being made to prevent outbreak, Duchin feels there will be less H1N1 occurrences and citizens will be more prepared to fight the potential pandemic.