Flu-Like Illnesses Surging on Campus

Almost one out of every three visitors to UNC Campus Health Services earlier this month exhibited flu-like symptoms.

Close to 700 students have called or visited the student health service with influenza-like symptoms since the beginning of the school year. Reported cases jumped from 25 to 368 from Aug. 29 to Sept. 5. For the week of Sept. 7, 314 new cases were reported.

The flu cases are not necessarily the H1N1 virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend routinely testing for the H1N1 virus in patients who are not hospitalized, so health authorities are tracking influenza-like illness, characterized by fever greater than 100 degrees Fahrenheit with a cough, congestion or sore throat.

Christopher Payne, associate vice chancellor for student affairs, said the numbers reported by Campus Health Services are just a snapshot of the true presence of H1N1 on campus. Some students are self-diagnosing and others, such as faculty and staff, are seeing their family health care providers instead.

Administrators expected swine flu to spread more quickly once students returned to campus, but they said the University community shouldn’t panic.

“What other schools like UNC-Wilmington and Washington State University have observed is that there is a rapid peak and then a leveling off of cases,” said Mary Covington, assistant vice chancellor for the health service. “I am hopeful this will be the case.”

Payne said the University is operating normally and will adapt its plans if the virus mutates and symptoms become more severe.

“The cases have been more mild to moderate, so it’s acting more like seasonal influenza, where people are getting sick and not feeling well for a period of days and then they’re able to recover completely,” Payne said.

Covington said that people with medical conditions predisposing them to higher risks of complications from influenza need to seek medical attention when symptoms arise. Those situations include all conditions that impair immune systems, including pregnancy, diabetes and asthma.

North Carolina colleges reported 1,150 cases of influenza-like illness between Aug. 22 and Sept. 11, according to the American College Health Association. The ACHA initiated a voluntary reporting system in August for cases of influenza-like illness; 253 colleges across the nation are participating.

North Carolina follows Washington (1,400) for the most reported cases. Pennsylvania (1,145), Florida (1,138), Georgia (1,122) and Texas (904) have reported the next highest numbers of cases. But North Carolina colleges reported fewer new cases from Sept. 4 to Sept. 11 than Pennsylvania (573), Florida (560), Washington (481), Maryland (478) and Texas (460).

The University recommends that students, faculty and staff visit to learn more about the H1N1 virus and its effects on campus. Recommendations to students, faculty and staff include self-isolating during and after fever, covering nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing, and washing hands with soap and water. UNC and the Orange County Health Department plan to set up immunization clinics for H1N1 when the vaccine is available.

— Meagan Racey

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