Over 500 students have reported H1N1 flu symptoms to UCSB’s Student Health Services over the past two weeks.
According to Student Health, all current reported cases of influenza are most likely novel H1N1 — also known as the Swine flu. Although the facility does not expect H1N1 vaccines to arrive until the first week of November, the campus health department is still offering seasonal flu vaccines for students.
Medical Director for Student Health Dr. Mary Ferris said a bout of novel H1N1 generally lasts three or four days and is characterized by a fever and sore muscles — symptoms that have not proven to be any more severe than the routine seasonal flu. Nonetheless, Ferris said, an unprecedented number of students are suffering from H1N1 symptoms.
“Unfortunately we’ve had to decrease the number of general appointments available for routine issues because we must accommodate flu patients,” Ferris said. “Although Student Health is working hard and seeing increased numbers of students, we are managing the workload and appreciate everyone’s understanding if they have to wait a little longer to be seen.”
And although many UCSB students have been diagnosed with H1N1, none of the incidents have required hospitalization, Ferris noted.
“Almost all cases that we’ve seen in Student Health have been resolved quickly, so that’s reassuring,” Ferris said. “What we really want is for people to stay home unless they are worried that other complications have developed. Occasionally influenza can lead to secondary illnesses, so we do encourage students to come see us if it’s lasting for a long time, and they think they need additional treatment.”
The H1N1 vaccine has not been distributed to any medical facilities in Santa Barbara County yet. When the vaccine is available, Student Health will offer it at a discounted cost of $10 during regular flu shot clinics — currently offered on Tuesday mornings and Friday afternoons — and at additional times that will be posted on the facility’s Web site in early November.
Student Health has been able to offer both seasonal flu clinics and vaccinations for students, faculty and staff in previous years. However, the clinic is now focusing its resources solely on immunizing upwards of 15,000 students with two different vaccines, the H1N1 vaccine and the seasonal flu vaccine.
To ease the strain, Chancellor Henry T. Yang said, the campus is looking for an alternative way to augment faculty and staff immunizations.
“We are working on the possibility of having a third-party vendor come to our campus in late October or early November to provide seasonal flu immunization shots for our faculty and staff, like our Student Health Service did last year,” Yang said.
Some students can receive medication to ease the influenza symptoms of H1N1, Ferris said, but Student Health refrains from distributing the medication Tamiflu.
“The danger of giving [Tamiflu] to everyone is that the flu virus will develop resistance to the medication,” Ferris said. “We reserve Tamiflu for people that have other underlying medical problems that could complicate a routine case of influenza such as serious asthma or conditions that suppress immunity.”
The smart way to avoid H1N1 is to take careful precautions, Ferris said.
“We hope that we’ve seen the worst peak of the illness and that if students continue staying home, covering their coughs and washing their hands, number of cases will decline,” Ferris said.
UCSB is currently monitoring the weekly trends of student and staff absences due to illnesses, and will declare a state of emergency if the absences interfere with campus operations. The campus Emergency Response Team for the H1N1 flu has been meeting every week since summer to prepare for a possible outbreak.
However, according to Dean of Students Yonie Harris, the likelihood of H1N1 developing into an emergency at the university is slim.
“Other universities have had a similar surge,” Harris said. “We are probably right in the middle of the surge, I would say. If it follows the pattern at the other campuses that have already had this surge, it will taper off.”
Furthermore, Yang said, the student body must work together to overcome the challenging flu season.
“Our campus has been planning diligently and carefully for this challenging flu season,” Yang said. “I appreciate the way that our entire campus community is working together to minimize the spread of flu on our campus and to help those who do become ill. We are committed to doing everything we can to support the health and well-being of our students, faculty and staff.”