This little piggy stayed home

As classes began this week, students were greeted with warnings about the possible spread of H1N1 swine flu at Portland State.

As classes began this week, students were greeted with warnings about the possible spread of H1N1 swine flu at Portland State. Swine flu appeared in Mexico last April and is expected to reach pandemic levels during the 2009–10 flu season, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) Web site.

Portland State President Wim Wiewel told teachers not to pass out papers in class, in hopes of preventing the possible spread of H1N1, and to send students home if they appear to be sick.

Students are being instructed by professors and on fliers around campus to wash their hands frequently and to stay home if they feel sick, especially if they have a fever.

Symptoms of H1N1 are similar to the seasonal flu and one can only tell the difference through lab testing.
Testing for the flu can take several days to come back positive, so a student with flu symptoms should stay home even if they are not positive that it’s H1N1, advised Mary Beth Collins, director for Student Health and Counseling.

Prevention of transmission

“[H1N1] seems to be breaking out in clusters,” said Collins. “We’re just keeping our fingers crossed.”
As of the week of Sept. 18, the American College Heath Association reported about 9,000 total confirmed H1N1 flu cases in Oregon since the disease began to spread last spring.

The disease is transmitted through fluid droplets but is not believed to be airborne, Collins said. The germs can live on surfaces for several hours up to a day. The virus enters hosts through the nose and throat and it takes one to four days for a person to develop symptoms.

Someone with the flu virus can be infectious for up to one day before symptoms develop and for up to seven days afterwards, according to the WHO Web site.

To prevent the spread of infectious droplets, one should wash their hands frequently and use alcohol-based hand sanitizers between scrubbings. People should also not cough into their hands, only into a tissue, their shoulder or the crook of their elbow.

“Like a vampire cough,” Collins said.

People’s habits do seem to be changing to follow the advice.

“Normally, in the bathroom, men just splash their hands with water as courtesy,” said Portland State junior Aaron Rayburn. “But now in the [Smith Memorial Student Union] bathroom there are lines, not for the urinals or stalls, but for the sinks. Men standing 20 seconds or more using actual soap and fervor.”


“Supply [of the vaccine] has been a problem,” Collins said. “We have only received a portion of what we ordered, but we have created an exhaustive list of where people can go to be vaccinated.” (See page eight.)
Portland State has already received shipments of the seasonal type A and B flu vaccine, but is still awaiting the arrival of the H1N1 vaccine. When it does arrive, a flu shot clinic will be organized, Collins said.

Only seven companies produce flu vaccines in the United States, and larger than average orders for this season is likely the cause of the delay, she said.

The seasonal flu and H1N1 vaccines will be administered on a priority bases to those considered high risk for flu-related complications or death.

Those in this high risk category are: pregnant women, individuals from 6 months to 24 years of age, those in close vicinity to a baby 6 months or younger, those with chronic illness, a compromised immune system, diabetes, cardiovascular or pulmonary conditions and anyone who has recently undergone chemotherapy.

“[H1N1] has been about the same as seasonal flu for some and deadly for those with underlying conditions,” Collins said.

University policy

“If you’re sick, you should not come to class,” said Jil Freeman, a communications professor. “This is really about the community’s health—you can have an effect on the life of other people.”

University staff and administrators have been meeting for several years to plan for the possibility of a pandemic disease outbreak.

“We are very well prepared at this point,” Collins said.

Students are not required to provide a doctor’s note to be excused for the flu, but should contact their professors immediately to make arrangements for make up work, according to the university policy.

Faculty has been asked to consider alternate means of conducting class via e-mail or BlackBoard in the case of widespread infection.

There is no clear school closure policy in the case of an outbreak, but if there are many classrooms empty, Portland State would likely consult with the state Health Department about closing school if needed, Collins said.

Western Oregon University closed for a short time last spring after several cases were reported.

“They were some of the first cases in Oregon and no one was sure how it would spread,” Collins said. “But closing events is not going to prevent the spread of the disease.”


CDC Prevention Tips

  • Wash hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds, especially after coughing or sneezing.
  • Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue, your elbow or shoulder when you sneeze. Do not use your hands.
  • Stay home when sick until you have not had a fever for over 24 hours. A fever is considered any body temperature over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Get vaccinated, especially if you are in a high-risk group for complications of the flu.

Symptoms of H1N1 swine flu

  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Body aches
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Fever of 100 degrees or more
  • Seek urgent medical attention for symptoms like:
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Pain or pressure in chest or abdomen
  • Sudden dizziness or confusion
  • Severe vomiting
  • Flu-like symptoms that improve but return with a fever and worse cough