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University prepares for fall swine flu threat

Ohio State health officials are preparing for an uncertain swine flu season as experts warn that the flu could have an aggressive return for the fall season.
“You never know what’s going to happen, but we are preparing,” said Madhuri Sopirala, assistant medical director of the Department of Clinical Epidemiology at the OSU Medical Center.
President Barack Obama’s administration warned Americans earlier this summer to be ready for an emphatic return of the virus in the coming months. In July, he announced plans to begin vaccinations beginning in October. The vaccine is not a replacement for the seasonal flu shot, but should be used as an addition.
Sopirala expects to receive the first batch of vaccines in mid-October. People at high-risk — pregnant women, health care workers, caretakers of children younger than 6 months, people aged 6 months to 24 years and people older than that with compromised immune systems or chronic health conditions — will be considered for the early vaccines. But it’s likely that not all in those categories will initially receive the shots.
College students are usually perceived as healthy and not especially susceptible to illness, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that young adults age 19 to 24 have a high rate of infection.
“There’s no clear agreement on why that is like that,” Sopirala said. “I couldn’t tell you. I don’t think anybody knows why.”
The CDC suggests that young adults are at risk because they are highly mobile and often live and work in close proximity, but there is no expert consensus on this explanation.
Because the virus is new, most people don’t have any significant immunity to it — but the elderly might be an exception.
“We’re actually seeing a little bit less disease in the elderly because they may have been exposed to something roughly similar to this virus,” said Dr. Roger Miller, a preventive-medicine physician at the Wilce Student Health Center.
The university has been planning for a possible outbreak since May and looking at what has happened here and at other schools, he said. Health officials have held briefings and exercises over the summer to prepare for the autumn season.
Although the university no longer recommends that students with the flu completely isolate themselves, doctors suggest that those who come down with the virus avoid putting others at risk.
“At this point, we are not putting people on strict isolation,” Miller said. “Instead we are recommending that they distance themselves from others.”
Sick students should skip work and class and wear a mask if they must be around other people, experts say. They shouldn’t return to work or school until at least 24 hours after the fever begins to subside.
Because of the high number of suspected swine flu cases, officials from the Ohio Department of Health and the CDC are no longer confirming individual cases for the Student Health Center.
“If this remains garden-variety flu, then having the confirmatory tests for the illness doesn’t change what you do for that individual, it doesn’t help them get better any quicker,” Miller said. “If we can identify them by their signs and symptoms, that’s the most common way for people to be identified with the flu.”
The first dose of the vaccine will a nasal spray, but it has its drawbacks. The spray, FluMist, isn’t recommended for children under 2 years of age, people with chronic medical conditions, pregnant women or people older than 49 — a big chunk of the high-risk population.
Injectable vaccines are expected to arrive by mid-October.
Flu warnings apparently haven’t worried parents of incoming freshmen: There hasn’t been an influx of phone calls from worried parents, Sopirala said.
Franklin County’s first swine-flu death occurred earlier this month. Kelsey Young, a 20-year-old pregnant Columbus woman, died Sept. 3. Her baby daughter survived.

Lantern managing editor Collin Binkley contributed to this story.

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