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H1N1 afflicts Missouri colleges, survey shows

Friday, September 25, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT
H1N1 has many similarities to seasonal flu especially in the way it enters and attacks cells in the body, but its differences give health experts cause for concern.

COLUMBIA — Missouri colleges and universities reported 369 new flu cases last week to the American College Health Association’s Pandemic Influenza Surveillance.

The number represents an increase from the previous week but also encompasses more colleges and students, resulting in a 1-percent decline in incidence per 10,000 students.

The voluntary survey includes reports from 267 colleges and universities across the country, five to 10 of which are in Missouri, said James Turner, ACHA president and executive director of the Elson Student Health Center at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

MU is one of these institutions, university spokesman Christian Basi said.

The ACHA has been collecting information since Aug. 22, and participating colleges in Missouri, which represent 83,674 students, have reported 774 cases in that period, more than every bordering state except Tennessee.

Survey findings are important because of the uncertainty surrounding the virus, MU Health Care spokesman Jeff Hoelscher said.

“Right now everyone’s trying to understand what’s going to happen this season,” Hoelscher said.

Stephens College is not contributing to the survey, spokeswoman Sara Fernandez said, while Columbia College officials could not confirm the college’s participation.  

The survey does not differentiate among flu strains, but the vast majority of the cases are likely H1N1, Turner said.

In its most recent FluView report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 99 percent of recently reported type A flu cases were H1N1.

Still, the majority of cases reported to the ACHA have been mild, Turner said. More than 21,000 incidences have resulted in 37 hospitalizations and no deaths.

What is unique is the timing. Flu season doesn’t normally begin until late fall or early winter, Turner said.

“It feels like January,” he said.

Although seasonal flu rates have not previously been tracked on campuses nationally, current H1N1 numbers at the University of Virginia are in line with typical campus rates for the seasonal flu, Turner said.

The possibility of mutations to the H1N1 virus has MU officials concerned, but the flu is a perennial problem, Hoelscher said.

“We have an epidemic of influenza every year,” he said.


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