Colleges Prepare for H1N1August 25, 2009 - 8:06 PM | by: Maggie Kerkman
Fall means back to the books for college students but this year may offer up a challenge more troubling than just midterms. Experts say H1N1 is set to make a comeback this Fall. Campus administrators say they’re preparing for the worst. They’re trying to get the word out about prevention. At the University of Texas at Austin, they have posters up in bathrooms encouraging people to wash their hands, not share food or drinks, and to cover their mouths when they sneeze or cough.
U.T. at Austin has already seen 24 H1N1 cases since the new flu reared its ugly head last Spring. Of those, none involved hospitalization. The Centers for Disease Control is telling campuses to treat H1N1 as they would the seasonal flu—don’t close up shop, but instead allow students to skip classes until they’re well.
The big difference between seasonal flu and H1N1 seems to be its victims. Seasonal flu hits hardest with the very young and very old. H1N1 seems to be hitting the young, so much so that when the H1N1 vaccine becomes available in October, CDC doctors are recommending it go to pregnant women, mothers with babies less than six months old, young people from six months to 24 years old, and then to older people with health conditions. Most college populations fall squarely in the third category. With the cramped conditions of most college dorms and classes that could become breeding grounds for germs, you begin to see why college administrators are getting nervous.
Students don’t seem to be phased. Students we talked to seemed more worried about getting settled in on campus than becoming H1N1’s next victim. That may be the biggest challenge for administrators—getting students to take the threat seriously enough to change their behavior.