In the peak of flu season, a virus that shocked the nation in 2009 has returned. H1N1, also known as swine flu, has been present since the initial pandemic, but this season the H1N1 virus is reportedly emerging at higher levels than ever since 2009.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports, “this is the first season that the virus has circulated at such high levels since the pandemic.”
During the week of Jan. 12-18, 96.8% of the influenza A viruses were H1N1 viruses, according to their Weekly FluView update.
As of Jan. 9, the San Francisco Department of Public Health reported on the death of a flu patient in San Francisco. They confirmed the strain of the virus as H1N1.
In the past month, the San Jose Mercury reported on eight deaths of swine flu in California — one in the East Bay, one in Santa Clara County, two in Sacramento, one in Orange County, and three people in Stanislaus County.
Professor Chenit Ong-Flaherty of the School of Nursing and Health Professions at USF thinks students are not currently at high risk of catching the virus. “I am not aware of any students with [swine] flu symptoms. Nor any cases around USF.”
Luckily for students, the School of Nursing is part of a national initiative to monitor influenza activity and prevent flu outbreaks in the USF community. Mark Smolinski, MD, of the Skoll Global Threats Fund, partnered with the School of Nursing to introduce Flu Near You on campus.
Flu Near You is a program that tracks flu activity across the nation. Reports are made available to volunteers after they anonymously submit flu-like symptoms, as shown in an ABC 7 newscast.
Judith Karshmer, the Dean of the School of Nursing, appeared on the news report stating, “Flu is something that is really very serious, and is something that we can track and and know how to prevent.”
Professor Courtney Keeler, who led the Flu Near You initiative at USF, recommends using the program to “help an individual remain aware of flu patterns in their own communities. These local trends are important indicators since one’s risk of the flu increases with the incidence of flu in one’s neighborhood,” she said.
Although the risk of H1N1 in the USF community is not currently of paramount concern, Professor Robin Buccheri notes, “A very scary thing about the H1N1 virus that we found in 2009 is that it can be especially serious in children and young adults.”
So why are young adults more susceptible? “The leading theory is that there is something about the flu that resembles the H1 flus that circulated before the 1960’s,” according to Donald McNeil, New York Times reporter and infectious disease expert. “People who were alive in the 1960’s or earlier probably caught it as kids and still have some antibodies and programmed white blood cells floating around that protect them,” said McNeil.
The main way young adults can stay protected then, is immunization. “The flu shot this year, which all nursing students are required to have updated annually, covers H1N1,” according to Professor Kimberleigh Cox. “Immunization and thorough, frequent hand washing, along with rest, sleep, fluids, and adequate self-care are the most important prevention tools,” said Cox.
Flu shots are no longer available to students on campus, but immunizations are free at the St. Mary’s Student Health Clinic on 450 Stanyan Street if students have the USF-sponsored student health insurance plan. Appointments can be made at 415-750-5995 and must be requested at least 24 hours in advance.
Students interested in participating in the Flu Near You program, can learn more and sign up here.