UW braces for swine flu as students return
With some 5,000 students due to move into the University of Washington residence halls over the next few days, university officials are bracing themselves for a major outbreak of the swine flu. Officials estimate 50 to 100 students already have the flu.
Seattle Times higher education reporter
With some 5,000 students due to move into the University of Washington residence halls over the next few days, university officials are bracing for a major outbreak of the swine flu.
Dr. Jean Haulman, the director of campus health services, estimates that between 50 and 100 UW students are currently suffering from the H1N1 virus, after some caught it during sorority rush week. Some of them were asked to return home until they were no longer contagious.
Health officials tested a few students to confirm the presence of the virus, but aren't conducting widespread testing.
As part of its preparations, the UW plans to begin handing out 10,000 free "care kits" next week. The kits will contain items such as thermometers, fever-reducing medicine, throat lozenges and hand sanitizer. First priority will be given to students living communally — in the dorms or the Greek system — and those who may be particularly susceptible or vulnerable to the virus.
Fall classes begin next Wednesday for most students.
Colleges across the country, including Washington State University, have reported significant swine-flu outbreaks as students have returned to campus. So far, however, the illness has proved relatively mild, with most students recovering fully in four or five days.
"From everything we know at this point, we can expect a substantial fraction of our community to become ill with H1N1 influenza," UW President Mark Emmert wrote in a letter to students, faculty and staff last week. "A vaccine against H1N1 is expected to be widely available in mid-October, and when it is, we are planning for a mass inoculation program ... ."
Haulman said the swine-flu vaccine will be free for all students, who will be strongly encouraged to take it. She added that it remains unclear if the vaccine will come in the form of a nasal spray or an injection.
University officials say that students should remember to frequently wash their hands and cover their cough to prevent the virus from spreading.
Should they catch it, they should avoid contact with others until at least 24 hours after the fever has subsided.
UW Provost Phyllis Wise this week sent a message to faculty urging them to be "flexible and accommodating" with students who miss class or assigned activities because of the flu. She said the university has developed a new Web site to help make instructional materials available online in cases of high absenteeism.
Of course, most people at the UW are hoping one student in particular will stay healthy through the fall — Jake Locker, the Huskies quarterback who has helped the team to two victories.
Head team physician Dr. John O'Kane said it's "very possible" that some athletic teams will have their performance impacted at some point this year by the swine flu.
"You just have to hope it's not at the wrong time," he said.
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