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H1N1 Virus on College Campuses: It's "Bigger and Badder" Than Ever Before

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The saying “out with old and in with the new” doesn’t necessarily ring true for college students when it comes to the H1N1 virus, commonly known as swine flu. Last Spring, colleges across the country were inundated with health concerns about this highly contagious virus, concerns that caused rather inflated prevention efforts and mild public panic in proportion to the actual severity of the infection. However, this fall, health officials are gearing up for an even bigger, more serious swine flu flare-up, though it is still too early to predict.

So far, hundreds of cases have been reported across colleges and universities, and recently, several news sources linked two campus deaths to the virus, a freshman at Troy University and a student at the University of Nebraska. Yet, anywhere from 50 to over 200 cases per campus reporting H1N1 only represent a very small percentage of the thousands and tens of thousands of students that make up any campus body enrolled this year.

While statistically the threat seems small, college administrators are still heeding advisement from federal health officials by taking all the necessary precautions. So what does that mean for you, the college student? It means be prepared for an unusual semester.

Here are some guidelines that you can expect from your campus:

Students Already Positive With H1N1 or Influenza A

Any students experiencing flu-like symptoms such as a fever or cough, severe or persistent vomiting, lethargy, irritability, pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen, dizziness, or vertigo will be assumed to have H1N1. Health officials are urging students who are already infected with the flu to go home, if possible. Some campuses have assigned sick dorms to quarantine ill students. Other campuses are encouraging sick students to isolate themselves in their dorm until 24 hours after their symptoms have subsided. Additionally, students that are sick, have been urged to wear masks in common areas such as bathrooms or when interacting with others.

If you are experiencing flu-like symptoms, it is recommended that you tell your RA and your roommate. Also, if you are sick and miss class, contact your professor. Campuses have been communicating to professors the importance of leniency for those that miss class due to a flu infection.

If in isolation, check to see if your campus provides meal delivery or ask a friend or roommate to help with meals.

Students With Isolated or Sick Roommates

In a situation where your roommate has been asked to isolate to the dorm room, it is recommended you check with your dorm director for the possibility of a short-term relocation. It might also be best to clean your living space, i.e., door knobs, computer keyboard, etc.

Be sure to monitor your health every day and take necessary precautions.

Students Preventing Illness

The best way to prevent getting sick is cleanliness. Wash your hands vigorously with soap and warm water. Clean room surfaces, car surfaces, cell phone, computer keyboard, etc., with antibacterial wipes or cleanser. Avoid touching your face, i.e., eyes, nose, and mouth. A seasonal flu or H1N1 vaccination is also recommended.

When To See a Doctor

Generally, cases of the H1N1 have been mild, not requiring a doctor’s visit. However, those who have chronic illnesses or are pregnant and begin to experience flu-like symptoms should see a medical provider.

In addition, if your flu-like symptoms subside but then relapse severely, see your doctor immediately.


Antiviral medicine is available but will be offered up to those who require hospitalization or who are at risk of complications. Again, the majority of flu cases in otherwise healthy adults are mild and prescribed medication is not necessary.

My Experience With Swine Flu

With all the aforementioned aside, I would like to say that in May, I wrote a satirical piece on the ridiculousness of how the media embellished the severity of swine flu. The piece was called Swine Flu: The College Campus Response to a Panic Mongering Media. It mocked the exaggerated precautionary measures many college campuses took, for example, segregated graduation ceremonies.

Soon after it was published, I got sick with swine flu. Some might say I got what I deserved, but all in all, I survived the experience. I lost no limbs or senses; I can still walk and chew and breath; and none of my family members got sick. That is my account, and I’m sticking to it.

Therefore, I still maintain, based upon my experience, that the swine flu ballyhoo is a little overdone and does not require any freak outs on your part. Just expect to see a lot of hand washing reminders, and if you do get sick, expect a large health clinic receptionist to tackle you with a face mask.

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Tommy Crenshaw about 9 years ago Tommy Crenshaw

Hi, My son went to school last year. When they had sick roomates they wore medical masks. We found this company, www.breathesafely.com sold enhancements (for under $10 for 10 of them I think) that were basically like a strip that goes on the mask. The peace of mind that breathe safely provides is priceless. They don't let ANYTHING pass through the mask so we know our son wasn't getting sick and wasn't going to get sick.