H1N1 influenza A virus, commonly referred to as swine flu, emerged in April and spread so quickly it was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization in June. It is the first pandemic in over 40 years.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “FluView” interactive map of H1N1 flu activity, Minnesota and North Dakota have only experienced “sporadic” H1N1 flu activity (versus local, regional, and widespread activity). However, H1N1 is still of concern as it continues to spread throughout the nation alongside regular-seasonal influenza viruses.
Kathryn Benson, registered nurse and health service administrator at the Kjos Health Center, said that the staff has seen an increase of students seeking healthcare this fall. While some students are coming in with flu symptoms, it does not mean that they have H1N1. In fact, it is impossible to tell what strain of flu an ill person has unless you are tested and the virus is confirmed by a lab test.
Cheryl Ross, family nurse practitioner at the Kjos Health Center, explained that H1N1 is influenza, just a different strain than the typical seasonal flu, influenza A and influenza B. Symptoms are nearly identical to the seasonal flu: fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headache, chills, fatigue, and a possible upset stomach.
“The one thing I think is confusing people,” Ross said, “is [the fact that] you don’t get tested and told you have H1N1. That’s not happening. We aren’t confirming and testing everyone.”
“If there’s a significant percentage of ill students, if there are clusters, then they screen for H1N1,” Benson said. “But otherwise they’re not doing that.”
Labs in the area do not have the capability to test for H1N1, so all tests have to be sent to a state lab. Benson said it might be frustrating for students and parents who want confirmation on the type of influenza a student may have, but healthcare institutions have to follow protocol.
Benson explained that if you are hospitalized for flu-like symptoms and meet certain criteria, then you would be screened for H1N1, which is what happened in the confirmed case of H1N1 at Minnesota State University Moorhead.
The treatment is the same for either H1N1 or the seasonal flu, since the symptoms are so similar. Ross recommends taking Tylenol or Motrin, drinking fluids, getting lots of rest, and isolating yourself from others.
The Kjos Health Center will be offering the seasonal flu vaccine Sept. 23-25. This vaccine will be given on a first come, first serve basis. Students with asthma or other chronic conditions are encouraged to be vaccinated.
Kjos Health Center will also be offering an H1N1 vaccine, but it is uncertain when it will arrive and how much vaccine will be available. Benson said the Kjos Health Center expects the vaccine to arrive in late October to early November and they have requested enough vaccine for all students from Clay County Public Health.
“We are hopeful that we will get that amount and distribute it on campus at no cost to the student,” Benson said.
Originally, the H1N1 vaccine was to be two separate shots, H1N1 1 and H1N 2, with three to four weeks between each shot. However, recent reports show that only one shot was needed for the immune response to initiate for more than 96 percent of people.
Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health told The Washington Post that the high likelihood that only one shot will be required eases concerns over the vaccination supply.
“This is very good news,” he said. “If you needed two doses, that would be a major strain on vaccine supplies nationally and globally.”
Persons aged six months to 24 years-old, pregnant women, health-care workers, and adults ages 25 to 64 years-old with heath problems will be given top priority for the vaccination.
A primary concern of healthcare professionals is the unpredictability of influenza. Influenza viruses change very quickly to cause more severe illness. H1N1 influenza has been fairly mild thus far and seems to affect more young adults and children than the elderly. However, if H1N1 becomes more severe by the virus mutating, it could cause widespread illness, deaths, and overwhelm the healthcare system.
Both Benson and Ross emphasized that the only way to prevent the spread of influenza is to use good respiratory etiquette, hand hygiene, and avoid contact with those who are ill. According to the CDC, the influenza viruses can survive on environmental surfaces like books and doorknobs and can infect a person two to eight hours after being shed.
“Certainly the college is trying to be responsive to the needs of the students, but at the same time, I think it will serve the community at large if everyone assumes self-responsibility for these things,” Benson said.
Marisa Paulson is a senior and the news & features editor of The Concordian, although she still writes when she can. She plans to attend the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in fall 2011.