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Widespread swine flu hits college campuses

As the school year and the fall flu season begin, colleges and universities nationwide have already seen tens of thousands of reported cases of swine flu, and they are bracing for more.

Government officials are particularly concerned about the impact of the H1N1 virus on schools because, unlike most flus, it appears to affect young people disproportionately. Because the flu is spread through personal contact, any environment in which people share close quarters — such as a college dormitory — is a potential breeding ground for the virus.

The virus is responsible for at least three college students' deaths this flu season, according to the online magazine InsideHigherEd.com, The most recent death was the Sept. 11 death of Cornell sophomore Warren Schor.

According to data from the American College Health Association — which has been tracking the spread of the flu at a sample of colleges and universities since the beginning of this month — 83 percent of the 253 participating institutions saw new cases of influenza-like illness in the week ending Sept. 11.

James Turner, the association's president, said the sample — which includes some 3 million students — is representative.

Rates of infection have been highest in the southeast and northwest parts of the country.
At least 2,500 students at Washington State University have reported flu-like symptoms already. The university has a total enrollment of about 25,000, according to its Web site.
Turner said he suspects that the comparatively low rate of incidence in New England and the mid-Atlantic is correlated with northeastern schools' relatively late start dates, and that he expects rates in the Northeast to catch up soon.

"The Northeast has been a bit slow on the uptake," he said.

The association's data also indicate that the virus is spreading. The percentage of schools reporting new cases went from 72 percent to 83 percent this week.

Koren Kanabian, director of emergency management at Providence College, said he was expecting an increase in the number of cases at the school, which has only seen one case thus far. "We really haven't seen anything yet," he said. "My feeling is that it's coming, but we haven't seen anything."

Seventy-eight Brown students have reported influenza-like symptoms so far this school year, according to Russell Carey, senior vice president for Corporation affairs and University governance.

Figures vary at other similar institutions. Kim Thurler, director of public relations at Tufts University, said the 10,000-student school had seen between 50 and 60 cases since May, and an additional 10 to 20 cases since the start of the academic year.

Turner said most schools were handling the flu in three primary ways — by "managing the surge" with extended hours and additional supplies and staff at campus health centers, by educating those who are ill about what they should do to prevent infecting others and by helping healthy students avoid exposure.

At Providence College, Kanabian said, administrators prepared for an outbreak by providing students with information — in addition to hand sanitizer, disposable thermometers and masks — and by setting up a 28-bed "isolation room" for infected students.

Carey said he believed Brown's response to the threat of the virus was in line with that at other institutions.

"My sense is that we're pretty consistent for the most part," he said.


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