Swine-flu outbreak hits 2,000 at WSU; other schools wary
Washington State University has reported the first large-scale return of swine flu in the state since spring's pandemic, with the latest outbreak striking almost as soon as students returned to campus Aug. 24.
Seattle Times staff reporters
Flu patients should stay homeAdvice from the CDC:
Flu may last a week or longer. If you have symptoms, stay away from other people as much as possible. Avoid travel and stay home from work or school for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone (without the use of fever-reducing medicine).
Washington State University has reported the first large-scale return of swine flu in the state since spring's pandemic, with the latest outbreak striking almost as soon as students returned to school Aug. 24.
About 2,000 WSU students and residents of Pullman have been stricken by flu-like symptoms in the past two weeks, said Fran Martin, director of Whitman County Public Health.
Most suffered only mild illnesses, but two non-students — an adult and a teen — were briefly hospitalized, Martin said.
Samples from the first several dozen cases were sent to the state laboratory in Shoreline and tested positive for H1N1. Public-health officials halted further tests when more probable cases came in, but Martin said odds are about 98 percent that they, too, are swine flu.
The virus "somehow got on that campus," Martin said. "This is what we had been expecting would happen" once classes resumed. The virus is spreading not just at WSU but at campuses across the country, according to a survey by the American College Health Association.
Martin said similar outbreaks may follow elsewhere in Washington as students once again begin congregating indoors.
Many public-school students in the Puget Sound-area are back in classes. Other schools are reopening soon, with the first day for Seattle Public Schools on Wednesday.
Spokesman David Tucker said the district is preparing for the start of the school year and has yet to make specific preparations for dealing with swine flu this fall.
The University of Washington, whose fall term starts Sept. 30, is also still finalizing plans.
The university's communicable-diseases committee will meet Tuesday to compile information it plans to distribute before students and faculty arrive on campus, said Norm Arkans, vice president of media relations.
In Pullman, the virus appears to be spreading from the 17,753-student campus into the community, Martin said, with reports of new cases among local residents coming in daily.
Martin said the estimated number of H1N1 cases include people who were treated or seen with flu-like symptoms or consulted about them by phone.
Whitman County health officials ruled out seasonal flu because it typically doesn't strike until winter.
Also, most of those sickened have been young people, not the elderly and very young children who account for most seasonal-flu cases.
Keep a safe distance
As more colleges welcome students back this month, many are keeping those with the H1N1 virus at a safe distance.
Along with giving out face masks, circulating lists of warning signs and encouraging contagious students to stay home, many campuses are roping off sick-student-only zones.
Atlanta's Emory University, for instance, with about 100 cases of swine flu among its nearly 13,000 students, is offering ailing students a special dorm where they can voluntarily segregate themselves from the campus population.
Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh has designated a vacant sorority house for the infected. St. John's University in New York set aside a gymnasium.
Princeton did the opposite, reserving spaces for healthy students so sick roommates can sleep in solitude.
Swine flu is most prevalent at colleges in the Southeast and Northwest, according to the health-association survey, with the largest outbreaks at schools in Washington, Georgia, Mississippi, Pennsylvania and Tennessee.
Of the 189 colleges that responded to the survey, more than half had experienced a swine-flu case in the last week of August.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its flu guidelines for schools and universities last month. Among its suggestions are monitoring absenteeism to determine how widespread influenza is; encouraging those who are sick to stay home; and clarifying when classes should be suspended.
But it is up to individual schools to create specific strategies for an outbreak.
Health officials at Emory, who have not calculated the cost of the quarantine, estimated that, without an isolation plan, nearly one in five students would get swine flu. By separating the sick and the healthy, they believe they can drastically reduce that figure.
Good hygiene stressed
At WSU, spokesman James Tinney said the school is relying on individuals to take responsibility for not spreading the virus.
"We are encouraging people who are ill not to come to class," Tinney said.
Martin said the best precaution against infections is good hygiene, including washing hands and covering your face while coughing or sneezing, as well as staying away from crowds and indoor spaces while you have flu-like symptoms.
A person is safe to return to school or work after being fever-free for 24 hours without medication, Martin said.
WSU is handing out free flu kits, including a thermometer, painkillers, throat lozenges, sport drinks, hand sanitizer and tissues.
The WSU Cougars are playing Stanford's football team today. Martin said public-health officials advised that the game be held, saying that fans face "little chance (of infection) sitting outdoors."
Kyung Song: 206-464-2423 or email@example.com.
Information from Seattle Times wire services is included
in this report.
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