MU works to prevent H1N1 virus cases from spreading

Tuesday, September 1, 2009 | 6:32 p.m. CDT; updated 11:27 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, September 2, 2009

COLUMBIA — A few Sundays ago at the Sigma Sigma Sigma sorority house on Richmond Avenue, MU sophomore Lauren Brown said her throat started to hurt. It came on suddenly and was followed by chest congestion, aching, fatigue, coughing, headache and a 100.3-degree fever. 

The MU Student Health Center would later conclude from a nasal swab test that Brown's condition was being caused by the type A influenza virus, believed to be the novel H1N1 strain.

"I was totally fine that week before," Brown said. "I went out Saturday night, and then Sunday morning I woke up, and it just hit me suddenly."

It wasn't until about a week later, after a few days of rest and rehabilitation at home in St. Louis, that the flu symptoms began to subside, she said.

"I guess it took about a week until I felt fine," she said. "I feel fine now."

But another odd feeling would surface, she said, in the aftermath of the grim media attention to the H1N1 virus. That feeling, she said, was surprise.

"When I heard it was swine flu, I thought I was going to be on my deathbed," Brown said. "It's really not bad. It's not what people think it is, you know.

"The media, they do make it seem it's like a plague or something, but it's like having a bad cold."

The main line of defense against H1N1 virus infection is similar to seasonal flu. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, primary preventions include covering the nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing; washing hands thoroughly; avoiding touching the face, mouth and eyes; and staying home if ill.

Fending off the virus through good hygiene is the only preventative, for now. No vaccine is likely to be available until mid- to late October.

Jeff Hoelscher, media relations coordinator for MU Health Care, said that during regular influenza season, there are three main flu strains: two type A strains and one type B. When the H1N1 virus first appeared in April, it has fashioned itself as a new type A.

"You introduce another strain into the mix, this H1N1, you up the ante, if you will," he said.

Hoelscher also said that "between five to 12" patients per week have tested positive for the type A strain influenza at University of Missouri Health Care since summer. Since then, the H1N1 strain has been giving central Missouri medical professionals about as much work as they would expect during the regular flu season.

"The severity here in central Missouri has been about the same or even milder than what we would see in the regular flu season," he said.

Antivirals are being used to treat suspected H1N1 virus, he said. Among these are Tamiflu, which is taken orally, and Relenza, which is taken by inhalation.

"They are antivirals that do work," Hoelscher said.

MU spokesman Christian Basi said the Department of Residential Life is working with the Student Health Center to combat the spread of the H1N1 virus on campus, beginning with measures to isolate students suspected to have a strain of the virus.

Basi said the college has no definitive answer on the best way to isolate students, but the overall message is to encourage everyone – students, faculty or staff – who may be sick to stay home and avoid contact with others. Students who may be sick should call the Student Health Center first or consult their doctor instead of arriving unannounced, which has the potential to increase the spread of the virus.

Lindsey Hoffman, the Panhellenic Council's vice president for public relations, said the national headquarters of many fraternities and sororities have contacted local chapters with recommendations for dealing with the flu; these measures vary from chapter to chapter.

For residence hall-dwellers, Basi said MU residence halls and dining halls already have hand-sanitizing dispensers, and all facilities are cleaned on a regular basis.

Hoelscher added that anyone with a chronic condition like asthma, heart disease or diabetes is at higher risk with any influenza.

Having experienced and recovered from the symptoms, Brown said that having the H1N1 virus was "not as big of a deal as people act like it is."

"If you could go home, like if you live in Kansas City or Saint Louis or close by, I recommend that," she said, "just is contagious. All of my professors were really understanding about it."

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