Colleges Prep for Swine Flu in Wake of Third Student Death

Hundreds of students are falling ill, but doctors say H1N1 fatalities are rare.

Sept. 15, 2009— -- Colleges across the country have stepped up efforts to combat the swine flu as the first few weeks of classes brought outbreaks to some campuses, and a few deaths.

Cornell University junior Warren J. Schor died last Friday after contracting the swine flu, becoming the third college student nationally to die because of complications related to the virus, according to Inside Higher Education, an online source for college news.

Cornell has seen 555 probable cases of H1N1 this semester, Claudia Wheatley, a university spokeswoman confirmed. Wheatley said Schor's passing has put the seriousness of the virus into perspective.

"It's been a bit of a shock," Wheatley said. "People are realizing that even though the vast majority of cases of the virus have been mild to moderate, this flu can be very serious."

Staying Informed with Flu Hotline, Blog

As the flu season approaches, college officials are inventing new ways to ready themselves for a wave of sick students on campus.

Cornell has established a 24-hour flu hotline where students can receive medical advice from nurses about whether they should treat themselves for the virus or see a health practitioner for further medical attention. If students report severe symptoms or their condition worsens, the university will provide them with transportation to a hospital or health facility, Wheatley said.

"We cover the bases of the whole spectrum of what the illness can be," Wheatley said. "We emphasize in our message that if a student's condition worsens, they really need to get the advice of a health practitioner."

Most of the 555 students who reported flu-like illnesses have already recuperated, Wheatley said.

Washington State University has seen more than 2,600 reports of students complaining of flu-like symptoms, according to its Web site.

The spread of the virus has led WSU officials to create a blog, H1N1 Flu @ WSU, with daily updates about the number of people contacting health services with flu-like symptoms. The university has also posted a color-coded flu phase chart on its site which tells students the current status of the virus on campus.

College Prepping for Online Instruction, Quarantine

Looking ahead to a situation in which thousands of students are sick on campus, school officials at the University of Florida are planning to teach asynchronously -- meaning faculty and students don't necessarily have to be in the same place at the same time to interact with one another.

The plan is to direct sick students to an online course management system where they can watch lectures, view PowerPoint presentations and communicate with their professors, said Dr. Andrew McCullough, UF associate provost for information technology.

"We think this will enable us to maintain teaching, maintain the instructional activities of the university at a relatively high level if we're faced with this swine flu epidemic," McCullough said.

Emory University, a private college in Georgia with 12,755 students, has set aside a dorm on its campus where students infected with H1N1 can go to recover. The dorm is not considered a quarantine area because students exposed to the virus are not forced to stay there.

In its first two weeks of school, Emory reported more than 200 cases of flu-like illnesses likely to be H1N1, according to the Emory Web site.

Mascot to Educate Students About Swine Flu

Next week, Syracuse University's mascot, Otto the Orange, will deliver a series of public service announcements about the swine flu, said Carol K. Masiclat, associate director of communications for student affairs at SU. The mascot will appear in campus e-mails, on posters and in placards in SU dining halls, imploring students to wash their hands, visit the health center when sick, and use disinfectant on tabletops.

"Some people will get through the flu season, but others won't be as lucky," she said. "And they need to know what to do when they get sick."

So far, SU has only seen about a dozen people at its health center reporting flu-like illnesses said Kathleen VanVechten, an SU health center official. Of the 12 people who visited the health center, only a few have tested positive for Type A flu, which would most likely be H1N1.

SU Health Director James Jacobs said it's hard to explain why some campuses have seen thousands of cases of swine flu while others, like Syracuse, have seen only a handful.

"When it comes to a campus like ours, where right now we're experiencing very low levels of flu-like illnesses, is that good luck or is that because of good planning?" Jacobs said. "I can't answer that question."

Swine Flu Deaths Rare

Jacobs emphasized that, for the most part, swine flu is comparable to the seasonal flu. He said the main difference is that people have not developed immunity to H1N1.

"On a worldwide population basis, this virus doesn't seem to be very dangerous," Jacobs said. "In fact, it seems to be less dangerous than seasonal influenza, which, we always have to keep reminding ourselves, in the United States results in about 36,000 deaths per year."

While it's very rare for the H1N1 virus to lead to death, some people do experience complications, said Dr. John Treanor, a professor of medicine in the infectious diseases unit of the University of Rochester Medical Center.

"It's a virus that grows in the respiratory tract," Treanor said. "And as it grows, it causes inflammation, which is manifested as a clinical symptom of pneumonia. Pneumonia is a disease that interferes with breathing, so some people die because of breathing problems."

With both the seasonal flu and swine flu, patients can develop symptoms of pneumonia. For patients with preexisting medical conditions, such as heart and lung disease or other chronic lung conditions like asthma, pneumonia can lead to severe breathing problems and even be fatal, he said.

Facebook Pages Honor Schor

It's unclear whether Schor, 20, had any preexisting medical conditions leading up to his death. On Friday, Cornell President David Skorton released a statement saying Schor had died due to complications related to H1N1 influenza, but university officials declined to elaborate, citing medical privacy concerns.

Schor's friends and family have created two Facebook pages to honor his life. As of this morning, 550 people had joined the two groups.

Friends, teachers and family members have been using the space on Facebook to send their condolences and pay respects to Schor's life.

"Warren was a loving, funny, smart guy and an incredible friend who never failed to put a smile on my face," Rachel Gottesman wrote on the wall of one of the Facebook groups. Schor and Gottesman both attended the Hackley School, a private college preparatory school in Tarrytown, N.Y.

Schor was majoring in applied economics and management at Cornell. He was also a member of the university's Zeta Beta Tau fraternity. He lived in Dutchess County, N.Y.

"I will miss him always and he will forever stay in my thoughts," Gottesman wrote.

ABC News on Campus bureau member Kristin Giannas, from the University of Florida, contributed to this report.

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