Pandemic calls for better hygiene, prevention practices

Graphic by Alice O'neill and Lou Ward

By Hannah Jochem ’10

Senior Meaghan Novi curled up on her couch for five days in late September to wait out the season’s newest illness—H1N1. She is one of 340,000 confirmed laboratory cases in the world, according to the World Health Organization. Novi is, however, among the first in a growing number of students at UAHS to contract the H1N1 virus, also called Swine flu.

Flu season is here and students are finding they need to change their daily routines to stay healthy.

On April 26, the U.S. Health Department declared the country to be in a public health emergency, followed two months later by the World Health Organization’s recognition of the swine flu as a pandemic. Since Sept. 25, there have been over 4,100 deaths in 191 different countries from the virus.

According to the Oct. 9 Columbus Dispatch article “H1N1 Flu Kills 14-year-old Columbus Boy,” an eighth grade boy at Holy Spirit School in Whitehall was the second person in central Ohio to die from the virus. He was, however, the first child to die in Central Ohio.

Novi was lucky-. Although she said she experienced a magnified fever, chills, aches and coughing, she had a relatively mild case of Swine flu.

“I had about five days of a fever, and my body ached much worse than from the regular flu,” Novi said.

Dr. Theresa Long, a Preventive Medicine Physician for Columbus, said the main symptoms of H1N1 are flu-like, including respiratory distress—like coughing and a sore throat—and a fever.

With 55 million children and 7 million adults in schools in the United States alone, students have become a major concern for spreading the virus.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, due to the close proximity in which students work and the vast number of people who could possibly become infected, students pose a great threat in spreading the virus.

UAHS, a school with 1,857 students, has the potential to face a serious flu outbreak.

“Children are 14 times more likely to get this infection than other adults,” Long said. “Kids are what I call ‘super spreaders;’ they easily pass the virus from person to person because of close proximity and lack of infection control.”

Some students have noticed that the high school is making an attempt to keep the school cleaner because of the outbreak of the Swine flu, including senior Kelli Conner.

“I think that teachers are making hand sanitizer more available,” Conner said. “And there have been posters about hand washing in the bathrooms.”

Hand sanitizers and posters are among a few of the measures the school has taken to prevent an outbreak of the virus. However, there is always more that could be done to keep students healthy. Long comments on precautions that are effective in keeping H1N1 under control.

“[UAHS] could and should, along with thorough and frequent cleaning of surfaces, have signs or posters all over with the basic messages of hand washing and covering coughs,” Long said. “Also, staying home and supporting that, as well as getting rid of perfect attendance policies and making it really easy [for students] to get school work online for days missed, and of course informing all of vaccine opportunities [are great ways to keep the school germ-free].”

The vaccination came out in small doses the week of Oct. 5, according to Long it is the ideal way to avoid contracting the virus.

“Students in general are a very high priority [to get the vaccination],” Long said “Children from six months to 18 years old are strongly encouraged with their parents’ consent to [get the vaccination].”

According to the UA Schools website, The Franklin County Board of Health will be providing vaccinations to students in three different clinics in UA. A RSVP with the number in each family who will receive the vaccination is a prerequisite.

The most commonly recommended prevention is common sense: stay home if sick, get plenty of rest, drink clear fluids, cover coughs and sneezes, wash hands often, and avoid close contact with others.

“Protect yourselves and your friends and family,” Long said. “It is not just about you, but in sharing responsibility in taking care of yourselves for others’ sakes. We all know someone with asthma or a heart condition or diabetes, or a neighbor who is pregnant. These folks are at very high risk, so wash your hands, cover coughs, stay home if sick and get vaccinated to protect yourself, your friends and loved ones!”

In the interest of global health, keeping as clean as possible this flu season is going to be a duty for everyone.