With the aggressive H1N1 influenza virus hitting college campuses nationwide, UCSB has begun preparing for a potential outbreak on campus.
As of Sept. 16, UCSB Student Health announced that there have been multiple cases of the influenza on campus, with all students recovering completely. According to a press release, the university expects increased numbers this fall and stated that if students are diagnosed with the H1N1 influenza, they will be given facemasks and told to remain isolated and absent from school and workplaces until they have been without fever for 24 hours.
Dr. Elizabeth Downing, medical director of Student Health, said the current situation has her department anxious about the months to come. According to Dr. Downing, faculty and staff have been preparing throughout the summer for a challenging year of sicknesses.
“I’m concerned,” Dr. Downing said. “The truth is, we just don’t know what to expect, but we want to be as prepared as possible. Lots of kids may get sick, miss class and impact many campus services such as Student Health, Housing and Dining and Environmental Health and Safety. We have to be as ready for that as we can be.”
Students living in campus housing who are ill with the flu will be permitted to stay in their residences. Classes and other activities are scheduled to proceed as normal throughout the quarter, although faculty and staff are being advised to adopt more lenient policies concerning increased absenteeism this fall. The university has an emergency response team monitoring the campus situation, and any decisions regarding class cancellations will be made by the chancellor and broadly announced to students and faculty.
Although still early in the school year, there have already been several large H1N1 outbreaks reported at numerous colleges and universities across the country, including Washington State University and Cornell. While H1N1 has proven to be a very mild illness in most cases, it is also much more contagious than the seasonal influenza and the World Health Organization recently gave it the distinction of being the first influenza pandemic in over 40 years.
The highly contagious virus has also made a noticeable impact on UCSB, with over 60 H1N1 cases confirmed since May with more samples pending, according to a University of California Office of the President H1N1 situation update. Reported cases of H1N1 at UCSB continue to be mild without any serious complications among students or staff; no deaths have been reported in Santa Barbara County due to the illness.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year the flu season traditionally begins in October and lasts until May, causing an average of 200,000 hospitalizations and 36,000 deaths. This year, however, a White House advisory panel has predicted those numbers to skyrocket to 300,000 hospitalizations and 90,000 deaths as a result of an additional wave of H1N1 cases during the flu season.
Dr. Downing said students need to guard their health this school year by practicing good hygiene and minimizing close contact with peers.
“The two major steps are prevention and immunization,” Dr. Downing said. “It is prudent for students to wash their hands and avoid widespread intimate contact until enough students get immunized. This makes the risk of getting sick for all students much lower.”
A seasonal influenza vaccine — recommended for all students by the CDC — will be provided by Student Health and available across campus starting Sept. 29. Dates for flu shot clinics this fall can be found online at the Student Health Web site (www.sa.ucsb.edu/studenthealth). Additionally, a 2009 H1N1 vaccine is currently in production and initial doses of this vaccine are expected to become publicly available later this fall. The CDC placed individuals under 24 in the top priority group to receive the vaccine, and Student Health will release more information on this vaccine shortly.
In addition to immunization, Student Health provides an on-call nurse to administer advice over the telephone.