As of Monday, Aug. 24, the Stamps Health Services Center reported over 100 suspected cases of the H1N1 virus (also known as swine flu) within the student population. The center reported to have seen 41 cases of flu-like symptoms during the first week of school, and 70 more cases Monday alone.
This latest outbreak of swine flu comes after a few cases this summer starting around the second week of June. The cases were limited to two to three cases a week during the summer.
“[Since the summer], we had been preparing since the announcement of H1N1, novel H1N1, had emerged with the mass media in late April, so we were prepared the Monday that that [H1N1 on campus] broke in the media,” said Jonathan Baker, director of the Health Services Center.
Pandemic flu preparations have been in place at Tech since 2006 during the avian flu (H5N1) outbreaks. In addition, CDC officials have trained Tech health practitioners in proper ways to handle students with swine flu.
Students with H1N1 have been first urged to be sent home, in order to “self-isolate” themselves for the entirety of their fever as well as 24 hours after their fever breaks. Because of these guidelines, students who have or will miss class will be pardoned. The Health Services Center has worked with the dean of students office and Dean John Stein in order to facilitate this issue.
While seasonal flu vaccines will be available, the Health Services Center will not be available to release H1N1 vaccines immediately. The Federal Food and Drug Adminsitration announced that the H1N1 vaccine would not be developed until the end of October. When it is released, the federal government will distribute a certain number of vaccines to Tech.
“We have the opportunity [of] being a sentinel vaccine site, and we report our information to the CDC, Fulton County Health Department, the state and the Feds. We had the opportunity to partner in a business manner with Fulton County, and so we will deploy vaccines and medication from the national strategic stockpile,” he said.
Although Baker and the Health Services Center have requested a number of vaccines, there is no guarantee that Tech will receive enough for the entire student population. Upon receiving the vaccine shipment, the health center will be given direction as to who and which groups will get the vaccines first.
If the situation worsens, the Health Services Center has looked into providing a second location to better serve students. Although segregated housing for students with the virus has been discussed, the Tech administration has deemed it to be unfeasible.
“I think that the campus community and people need to keep in mind that novel H1N1 is a dynamic situation, and I think that the team of campus leaders that have taken charge of this project have taken that balance between complacency and panic and have taken a dynamic approach to it,” Baker said.
As far as students are concerned, representatives from the Health Services Center and the administration urge students to be more aware of their actions and to take precautions.
“Campus leaders have started to put together business contingency plans to prevent any concerns about the illness rising and there being a reduction in workforces… We have encouraged social distancing which is one of the best things, but that is hard for campus to do right now because we are in tone of the highest periods of socialization in the year… Georgia Tech is a very busy place with lots of clubs and large gatherings. I would recommend that people try to avoid those, and if they are going to take the right precautions,” Baker advised.
Students are encouraged to wash hands and take the usual flu season precautions. If a student does believe he or she has contracted the H1N1 virus, the Health Services Center has advised the student to wait until a representative meets him or her with a mask. For more information concerning the H1N1 virus and its symptoms, look at the official CDC and Health Services Center websites.