H1N1 likely on campus

By Peter Wright

H1N1, popularly known as Swine Flu, is very likely sweeping across the Macalester campus right now, infecting students and employees alike.As of Tuesday afternoon, less than twelve people from Macalester were infected, according to Laurie Hamre, vice president for Student Affairs. Of those one was a faculty member, one was staff and the rest were students.

Hamre said an exact number is hard to determine because not everyone reports being sick, and the level of infections changes everyday.

“The number is kind of a moving target,” she said.

History professor Andrea Cremer is the faculty member in that count. Cremer said she realized she was sick at the beginning of the school year when she started having body aches.

“I had extreme pain in my knee and ankle joints,” she said in an email, “pain so severe that it woke me up [at] night and made walking difficult.”

Aside from the pain, Cremer said she had extreme fatigue and a bit of a cough and sore throat. After a visit to the doctor that revealed a high-grade fever, Cremer said she was “told to go home, stay away from the rest of the world, and take lots of Tylenol.”

“Fortunately my fever broke and I’m on the road to recovery now,” she said, “but it was about 10 days of misery.”

Cremer said that she usually gets the seasonal flu about once a year, but this flu was worse than anything she’s ever had.

“With H1N1 I didn’t have the energy to do anything, and my body hurt so much,” she said.

Elizabeth Balskus ’11 spent about four days quarantined in her room after she visited Health Services with flu-like symptoms.

“It felt like my eyes were boiling inside my face,” Balskus said.

She said when she started telling her symptoms to the nurse on duty, they rushed her out the door with a flu kit and Ibuprofen.

Health Services Medical Director Dr. Steph Walters said the clinic is actually the last place people with H1N1 should be going.

“It’s absolutely understandable that people want to come here,” Walters said. “The flu itself isn’t what necessarily hurts people.”

Walters said the flu virus makes people more likely to pick-up secondary bacterial infections, and going to the clinic could increase that risk. If someone with flu-like symptoms starts to get worse after several days or if they have a condition that puts them at extra risk, like asthma, they should visit a clinic, she said.

Walters said anyone with flu-like symptoms should stay home and call Health services (x6275).

She said the clinic has drafted a series of questions about symptoms that they will ask over the phone. If the caller’s answers sound like the flu, they will be told to stay home or in their dorm rooms until 24 hours after their fever has broken.

Walters said the entire process from diagnosis to response has been shaped by suggestions from the Centers for Disease Control and the Minnesota Department of Health.

“The nice thing for us is we don’t have to pull this out of thin air,” she said.

Preparing for a Pandemic

Laurie Hamre said the school has made arrangements to encourage sick students to stay in their rooms.

Infected students are provided with a flu kit, which contains thermometers, a mask and Ibuprofen, among other things.

She said students on campus can have a friend, or staff member if necessary, bring them food from Café Mac. Staff members will check on students off campus to make sure they have access to food, and can make arrangements to get them food if there is a problem.

Hamre said for now the school is focused on keeping awareness high. Students seem to be taking H1N1 a little more seriously now that their friends are getting sick, she said.

“I do know that the campus has heightened awareness about…taking care of themselves,” she said.

Perhaps the most visible preparation for the pandemic is the sudden appearance of hand sanitizer in almost all offices on campus.

“We’ve asked offices to order their own Purell and tissues,” Hamre said.

The school has ordered roughly 48 automatic dispensers, like the two outside Café Mac, that will be installed in dorms and classrooms over the couple of weeks, she said. In addition, Health Services has ordered 300 containers of hand sanitizer that can be distributed as needed.

Health Services has already held one round of vaccinations for seasonal flu, and will offer the vaccine again for $20 to Macalester community members Wednesday.

Hamre said the school has ordered the H1N1 vaccine, but there’s no word yet on when that will be available.

“We still don’t know how many doses we will get,” she said.

Walters said the biggest risk for catching H1N1 is in the next four weeks, while the vaccine is still being produced.

Walters seemed cautiously optimistic about the outbreak not expanding too rapidly through the Macalester community because of their ability to think broadly and consider the impact they could have on others.

“That’s one of the best things and that can serve people well,” she said.

So far, Walters said, the flu has not been as bad as it could be and the outbreak has been relatively small, but H1N1 is a pandemic flu, just not in the sense of severity.

“I would rather look the fool than to be underprepared and be hit with a big outbreak,” she said.