Swine Flu Cases Decrease Among Students

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Reports of the H1N1 swine flu, a cause for concern at many college campuses this year, are on the downswing at UC Berkeley as finals season approaches.

Fewer than 50 students a week have been coming to the Tang Center with flu-like symptoms since October, according to Kim LaPean, communications manager for University Health Services. That number peaked at about 100 per week in September.

"We've never had swine flu before during finals ... this is a new virus, so we don't really know what to expect," she said. "We also know we can get another peak, so we're preparing for anything."

However, no extra services will be provided during finals season to serve students with the flu, LaPean said. She believes that there is no need to change what the Tang Center has been doing to publicize information about the illness and vaccination, which it has been doing since April, in addition to monitoring the number of cases on campus

Though finals season is generally known as a high-stress time, the Tang Center actually sees fewer students in comparison with the rest of the academic year, LaPean said.

Still, the center does not have enough swine flu vaccinations for all the campus' students, who are part of the age-24-and-younger high-risk group-so she hopes they will be administered in January by the latest. Vaccinations for everyone on campus have been ordered, but due to the national shortage, LaPean said priority patients, such as those with chronic medical conditions, would be treated first.

On Nov. 20, the American College Health Association reported a 37-percent decrease in new cases of influenza-like illnesses from the previous week nationwide. But it also reported that 90 percent of reporting campuses had a rate of 13.4 new cases per 10,000 students.

The number of UC Berkeley students with at least influenza-like symptoms is difficult to pinpoint, because they are encouraged to stay home instead of seeking treatment unless they have severe symptoms, LaPean said. Without testing, it is difficult to tell the difference between season flu and swine flu, except swine flu targets students more "aggressively."

"With the flu, it's not like you're going to get medication. For the basic flu, students don't need to come in," she said. "Self-treat is usually the best way to go."

The stress normally associated with finals season is a "minor factor" in causing an increase in flu cases, said Arthur Reingold, associate dean of research at the School of Public Health. Instead, students are far more likely to contract the illness because of constant exposure to it.

Others will miss finals because they are recovering at home. Cynthia Schrager, assistant vice provost for teaching, learning and academic planning and facilities, said they should work out an alternative exam plan with their professors.

John Swartzberg, director of the UC Berkeley-UC San Francisco Joint Medical Program, added the winter season could pose a bigger risk of spreading the virus.

"Schools are a perfect breeding ground. You're bringing 30,000 people together on a daily basis," he said. "One of the best things about after finals is that (the campus) will be a safer place to be."


Contact Denise Poon at [email protected]

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