More than 2,000 Washington State University students have been sickened by swine flu during the first two weeks of classes, school health officials said.
The outbreak of H1N1 influenza prompted concerns about Saturday’s football matchup against Stanford at Martin Stadium.
While school and health officials stressed that attending the game poses little risk of infection, they urged people sick with the flu to stay home and encouraged fans to wash their hands, to avoid sharing food and drink, and to cover their mouths when coughing or sneezing. Pregnant women and people with underlying health risks such as diabetics, asthma or heart or lung disease should consider skipping the game, health officials said.
Far more than 2,000 students could be ill, said Dr. Dennis Garcia, although the number of students seeking care and calling nurses at WSU’s Health and Wellness Services fell for the first time Thursday since classes started.
Dozens, perhaps even hundreds, more students have called or gone into Pullman Regional Hospital seeking treatment.
There have been no deaths and no students have developed severe symptoms requiring hospitalization.
Rather, Garcia said, most students suffer through three to five days of discomfort. The school is handing out free flu kits including a thermometer, painkillers, throat lozenges, sport drinks, hand sanitizer and tissues.
While WSU wrestles with H1N1, Spokane-area schools have avoided outbreaks so far.
“There’s nothing that unusual about our absent students or what parents are telling us,” said Kathe Reed-McKay, director of health services for Spokane Public Schools. “But that could change in an instant.”
There has been just one student case of H1N1 at Gonzaga University in the first week of classes, and a few at Eastern Washington University, though classes there haven’t yet started.
Public health officials long ago gave up trying to ascertain an accurate number of people sickened with H1N1 influenza. Only the most serious cases – including hospitalizations and deaths – are confirmed by the Washington State Public Health Laboratory.
The vast majority of people with flu symptoms – and likely infected with H1N1 – are encouraged to take fever-reducing medicine such as over-the-counter acetaminophen (such as Tylenol), and rest. Only if symptoms worsen or people have underlying health problems should they seek medical attention. Otherwise, they should stay home.
“That’s what has to happen to control the spread,” said Julie Graham, spokeswoman for the Spokane Regional Health District.
Garcia said he believes many students have gotten the message, and rather than seeking medical help they are resting and being cared for by roommates.
Garcia said the symptoms of H1N1 are a giveaway. Sick WSU students have reported sore and scratchy throats, chest pain reminiscent of heartburn, and headaches that come and go. Many students also have chills, body aches and nausea and run a fever upward of 103 degrees for two days.
Preparations for an H1N1 flu outbreak in Spokane continue to jell. The health district has asked clinics, hospitals and other providers to help provide H1N1 vaccines when they arrive in mid-October.
If providers’ response is not large enough to quickly vaccinate the most vulnerable people – including pregnant women, children and health care workers – the district will consider revamping its normal distribution methods.
Hospitals have been putting plans in place in case the H1N1 infections grow in number and severity.
Nurses, doctors and employee health coordinators have been preparing areas of Deaconess Medical Center for additional triage and screening, hospital spokeswoman Christine Varela said.
Employees have been asked to get vaccinated, not only for their own health but also for the safety of already-sick hospital patients who could be endangered if they get H1N1.
“We take this seriously and are ready to be there for people,” Varela said.
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