Swine flu hits CMU, PSU

26 cases confirmed at Carnegie Mellon have been classified as mild to moderate

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Eight new cases of swine flu were confirmed at Carnegie Mellon University yesterday, bringing the total to 26 students with H1N1 influenza, and the number is expected to climb.

Penn State University also confirmed several cases, while other local universities reported no problems to date.

Anita Barkin, CMU director of student health services, said the first confirmed case of swine flu occurred Aug. 10. Freshmen arrived Aug. 16 for a week of orientation, and classes begin Monday. So far, flu cases have been mild to moderate with no hospitalizations or complications.

"We can maintain and meet our mission as an academic institution without a problem," Ms. Barkin said. "Some resources are being tested in terms of taking care of the students, but we will be able to continue to have students engaged in the academic experience."

For now, classes will continue. But that could change if more severe cases occur, she said. A high rate of absenteeism among student, staff or faculty also could force the university to reconsider its strategy and suspend classes or activities.

"I think people are taking this in stride," Ms. Barkin said. "We are attempting to keep the public well informed about strategies used to decrease the chance of contracting H1N1, and asking staff and faculty not to engage in social or classroom activities if they are ill."

In a university e-mail Monday, health officials said 18 students contacted Student Health Services and reported flu-like illness.

The university is following U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to keep the outbreak in check. Those guidelines suggest ill students living off campus to remain in their residences and avoid contact with others. Those students should seek assistance from roommates or housemates to provide food and medications, but limit contact.

The university has placed ill on-campus students in isolated units with round-the-clock assistance from nurses working eight-hour shifts. The university has hired an additional nurse to make that possible.

"All students are doing very well and continuing to prove that this is mild to moderate in severity," Ms. Barkin said, noting that fevers have reached 102.6 degrees with body aches and coughing.

Students will remain in isolation until they remain fever-free for 24 hours without fever-reducing medications, as guidelines suggest. The university also advises healthy students, faculty and staff to monitor their temperature and isolate themselves should they develop symptoms.

"If you live within 150 miles of campus, we encourage you to recuperate at home, if at all possible," the CMU e-mail said.

The university also has alerted professors to allow ill students to make up missed classes and class work.

Ms. Barkin said the Allegheny County Health Department arrived on campus to test students and confirm the presence of H1N1. "We did have confirmed cases, so if new cases fit the clinical definition, you don't need to test everyone," she said.

Penn State also reported several confirmed cases of H1N1.

Students do not need an excuse if they miss class due to flu-like symptoms, said Lisa Powers, university spokeswoman. Faculty members have been advised to be lenient with ill students. She noted the university is also following CDC guidelines.

Students moved into dormitories yesterday at the University of Pittsburgh, where Pitt spokesman John Fedele reported no problems with H1N1. Duquesne University, where classes resumed on Monday, also reported no problems to date. West Virginia University did not respond.

CDC data shows that H1N1 cases steadily declined over the summer, with a total of 7,983 hospitalizations since April and 522 deaths.

The seasonal flu typically causes 35,000 to 40,000 annual deaths, mostly among elderly patients. But most H1N1 deaths this year involved youngsters and young adults.

The President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology issued a report that presents "a plausible scenario" of 20 to 40 percent of Americans catching H1N1, with a projected total of 30,000 to 90,000 deaths. Large outbreaks are expected in schools. The scenario also foresees an H1N1 resurgence in September, with the peak occurring in mid-October.

Fears include lack of antiviral medications with the peak of infections striking before vaccinations take effect.

The government last reported only 45 million doses of H1N1 vaccine will be ready by Oct. 15, which would be 75 million doses short of what officials said would be needed.

Despite such scenarios, Ms. Barkin said Carnegie Mellon remains calm.

"We're not seeing panic in our community, and I don't think there should be. Our public is responding in a manner consistent with the severity of the disease."


David Templeton can be reached at dtempleton@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1578.


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