Swine flu under control at Villanova

Tara Powers

Several confirmed cases of H1N1 virus – swine flu – at the beginning of the fall semester have resulted in the emphasis of health precautions within the Villanova community.

University administrators, though, stress that they are pleased with the way patients are recovering and are satisfied with the way cases are being managed.

“Not unexpectedly, we’ve had several confirmed cases since we’ve returned to school, but all have recovered quickly,” said Rev. John Stack, O.S.A., vice president for Student Life. “There’s been enough publicity through just the regular news media since school ended in the spring that people are coming back much more aware than usual and are not panicky so far,” Stack said.

“Nobody has been taken from the Health Center to the hospital,” said Dr. Mary McGonigle, director of the Student Health Center. “Some went to the emergency room initially or went home to recover, but none were admitted to the hospital.”

One concern voiced by both Stack and McGonigle was the possibility of the situation changing with the advent of the regular flu season.

In the past, it has not been recommended that college students get a seasonal flu shot. This year, though, the Center for Disease Control is recommending that everyone receive the vaccine.

The University is going to make provisions for the CDC recommendation, according to McGonigle. An outside vendor will be brought to campus as part of a “flu fair” to be held in the Pavilion at the end of September to make vaccines available for a fee to students, faculty and staff.

However, the seasonal flu vaccine will not protect against H1N1 virus. The government will administer a planned H1N1 vaccine on a tiered schedule, identifying certain priority groups to receive the vaccine first.

The top four tiers include pregnant women, infants and caretakers of infants, healthcare workers and those between the ages of six months and 24 years old, meaning that much of Villanova’s population will fall within a high-priority tier. McGonigle explained that due to viral outbreaks in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, people who are older actually have more immunity built up over a lifetime whereas people who are younger have had less exposure over their young lives, and therefore have less immunity.

The vaccine, which will be a two-shot series, is tentatively scheduled to be ready by November, but McGonigle does not yet know whether the University would be sent the vaccine directly or be instructed to send students to public clinics or other strategic sites.

“My hope is that we will be sent the vaccine and be able to administer it, but we don’t know that yet,” McGonigle said.

Since school began, McGonigle and Stack have been in constant contact and have met frequently to discuss and reassess the H1N1 issue. McGonigle is also in frequent contact with the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

“If circumstances change, we’ll evaluate and react,” Stack said. “It would have to be a much different pattern than what we’re seeing now.”

“We are taking our example from the CDC and the Pennsylvania Department of Health, which are recommending vaccines and preventative medications,” McGonigle said. “The agencies are actually recommending that schools don’t close.”

According to a recent article from U.S. News and World Report, the latest statistics from the World Health Organization indicate that over 209,400 cases of H1N1 flu and at least 2,185 deaths have been reported internationally, and these statistics are most likely an underestimation.

H1N1 virus is characterized by flu-like symptoms including sudden onset of fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills, fatigue, diarrhea and vomiting. Anyone experiencing any of these symptoms should report immediately to the Health Center for evaluation. 

McGonigle’s e-mail to students stipulated that anyone diagnosed with the H1N1 virus remain isolated from the public until they have been without a fever for 24 hours without taking medication.

The University’s most recent email advised students that the H1N1 virus is spread through respiratory droplets. Because of this, close contact – less than six feet – is required to transmit the droplets between an infected person and a recipient. Caring for or living with someone who has a confirmed, probable or suspected case of the H1N1 virus is designated “close contact,” whereas walking or sitting in the vicinity of an infected person would not. Kissing, embracing or sharing utensils and food would create a close contact situation.  

Those infected with the H1N1 virus or anyone who has been in close contact with an infected person should receive prophylactic treatment with Tamiflu, which can be obtained by receiving a prescription from the Health Center. 

Some of the students initially diagnosed with H1N1 virus have remained in the infirmary during their recoveries, although most returned home to recover. Most have been feeling better within 48 hours. 

The Health Center also recommended taking preventative steps to avoid exposure to the H1N1 virus.

These included frequently washing or sanitizing hands, covering your mouth when sneezing or coughing and washing your hands afterwards, throwing used tissues in the trash and seeking medical treatment earlier rather than later.

Also stressed was the importance of staying home from class or work if sick.

“All of the students have been very good about following directions,” McGonigle said. “There’s not too much to do outside of what the CDC has recommended. The most predictable thing is that [the virus] is unpredictable.”