COLUMBIA — As of Friday, 48 students had reported flu-like symptoms at MU, pointing to what MU spokesman Christian Basi said "probably is" the H1N1 virus. The cases have not been confirmed but are likely to be H1N1 because it's the only flu strain currently circulating.
"The university is not requiring testing at this stage because it is too early in the season for the seasonal flu," Basi said. "As we have learned from the CDC, we are assuming anyone showing flu-like symptoms at this point has the H1N1 virus."
1. No cause for panic.
So far, swine flu isn't much more threatening than regular seasonal flu. During the few months of this new flu's existence, hospitalizations and deaths from it seem to be lower than the average seen for seasonal flu, and the virus hasn't dramatically mutated. That's what health officials have observed in the Southern Hemisphere where flu season is now winding down. Still, more people are susceptible to swine flu, and U.S. health officials are worried because it hung in so firmly here during the summer — a time of year the flu usually goes away.
2. Virus tougher on some.
Swine flu is more of a threat to certain groups — children under 2, pregnant women, people with health problems sch as asthma, diabetes and heart disease. Teens and young adults are also more vulnerable to swine flu. Ordinary, seasonal flu hits older people the hardest, but not swine flu. Scientists think older people may have some immunity from exposure years earlier to viruses similar to swine flu.
3. Wash your hands often and for a long time.
Like seasonal flu, swine flu spreads through the coughs and sneezes of people who are sick. Emphasize to children that they should wash with soap and water long enough to finish singing the alphabet song, "Now I know my ABC's ..." Also use alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
4. Get the kids vaccinated.
These groups should be first in line for swine flu shots, especially if vaccine supplies are limited — people 6 months to 24 years old, pregnant women, health care workers. Also a priority: Parents and caregivers of infants, people with those high-risk medical conditions previously noted.
5. Get your shots early.
Millions of swine flu shots should be available by October. If you are in one of the priority groups, try to get your shot as early as possible. Check with your doctor or local or state health department about where to do this. Many children should be able to get vaccinated at school. Permission forms will be sent home in advance.
6. Immunity takes awhile.
Even those first in line for shots won't have immunity until around Thanksgiving. That's because it's likely to take two shots, given three weeks apart, to provide protection. And it takes a week or two after the last shot for the vaccine to take full effect. The regular seasonal flu shot should be widely available in September. People over 50 are urged to be among the first to get that shot.
7. Vaccines are being tested.
Health officials presume the swine flu vaccine is safe and effective, but they're testing it to make sure. The federal government has begun studies in eight cities across the country to assess its effectiveness and figure out the best dose. Vaccine makers are doing their own tests as well.
8. Help, if surrounded by swine flu.
If an outbreak of swine flu hits your area before you're vaccinated, be extra cautious. Stay away from public gathering places such as malls, sports events and churches. Try to keep your distance from people in general. Keep washing those hands and keep your hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth.
9. What if you get sick?
If you have other health problems or are pregnant and develop flu-like symptoms, call your doctor right away. You may be prescribed Tamiflu or Relenza. These drugs can reduce the severity of swine flu if taken right after symptoms start. If you develop breathing problems (rapid breathing for kids), pain in your chest, constant vomiting or a fever that keeps rising, go to an emergency room. Most people, though, should just stay home and rest. Cough into your elbow or shoulder. Stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever breaks. Fluids and pain relievers like Tylenol can help with aches and fever. Always check with a doctor before giving children any medicines. Adult cold and flu remedies are not for them.
10. No swine flu from barbecue.
You can't catch swine flu from pork — or poultry either (even though it recently turned up in turkeys in Chile). Swine flu is not spread by handling meat, whether it's raw or cooked.
Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, New York City
Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, symptoms of the H1N1 virus are similar to seasonal influenza.
Epidemiologist Eddie Hedrick, emerging infections coordinator for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, said people who are having flu-like symptoms are most likely being affected by the H1N1 strain, according to previous Missourian reporting.
The 48 students include those who either called or went to the Student Health Center. In an e-mail to students Monday afternoon, Chancellor Brady Deaton confirmed that the virus is "present" on campus and offered guidelines for dealing with the virus.
"Do not go to class," the e-mail advises in upper-case lettering. Students who show flu-like symptoms are advised to call the Student Health Center for consultation or to schedule an appointment.
"This enables timely and efficient care to be provided to those in need and minimizes the spread of influenza to others," Deaton said in the e-mail.
He advised sick students to notify their professors of the illness and to return to class when their temperature has been less than 100 degrees for at least 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medication.
Faculty Council Vice Chairman Bill Wiebold said students are strongly encouraged not to come to class if they're showing any signs of a fever, cough, muscle aches or other flu-like symptoms.
"If they are ill, they need to stay away from class," he said.
Provost Brian Foster sent an e-mail to faculty members Monday evening that gave tips to guide them through the flu outbreak. Foster told faculty to create a coverage plan for a situation in which they could not teach their classes; to be lenient with their attendance policies; to consider alternative assignments and deadlines; and to consider alternative content delivery systems for students who miss class, such as Blackboard and others found at the ET@Mo Web site.
On Thursday, the Faculty Council discussed the implications of H1N1 for their classes. Wiebold said he relayed information to the council about preparedness for the spread of the virus.
"As faculty, we need to be prepared for the possibility of increased absence in our classes," he said. "This is a unique experience that we may have this year. We need to be flexible when these absences occur."
A number of MU students were diagnosed with the H1N1 virus this summer. It was confirmed in May that graduate student Xueyang Bao, 30, had swine flu before he left campus for his wedding in China, and four of 40 students who traveled to South Korea in July to teach English were diagnosed with the H1N1 virus. The entire group was quarantined.
Outside of the immediate reaction on campus, MU and health officials are seeking ways to prevent a spread of the virus.
MU plans to offer free vaccinations for students for the H1N1 virus, but the vaccine won't be ready until at least mid- to late October, Basi said.
Students are encouraged to avoid contact with others. Residential Life staff will check on students and work with them to help isolate them as much as possible, Basi said.
Students showing symptoms are also advised to avoid dining halls and other common areas. They can order a meal from Campus Dining Services through their community adviser, CDS marketing manager Andrew Lough said. The student can request a meal to be prepared based on that day's menu, and the community adviser can pick it up with the student's ID number.
For more information and updates, students can go to MU Alert or Ask Dr. C on MU's Web site. Dr. C. is Michael Cooperstock, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Disease, Immunology and Rheumatology in the Department of Child Health. The Dr. C site answers frequently asked questions about H1N1 flu and other issues.