Swine flu has officially hit home.
H1N1, otherwise known as swine flu, is a unique strand of the common influenza virus. Now widespread in 46 states, incidences of this strand are much higher than typically seen at the peak of a normal flu season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Mary D. Knudtson, executive director of Student Health Services, said there have been 350 cases of H1N1 reported on the UC Santa Cruz campus since April. Two of those cases resulted in hospitalizations, and one required the patient to be admitted into an Intensive Care Unit. College students fall into the high-risk category, a group that also includes infants, children and individuals over age 50.
In Santa Cruz County as of Oct. 26, 24 individuals have been hospitalized with probable or confirmed H1N1 cases, five of whom were subsequently sent to the Intensive Care Unit. A 52 year-old woman died from H1N1 complications in July, as reported by the Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency and the Santa Cruz Sentinel.
The UCSC Health Center ordered 7,500 doses of the H1N1 vaccine and received a shipment of 2,000 of those vaccines at the end of October. Maxim Health Care Services, a Monterey-based company that provides medical staffing, administered 1,500 of those doses from last Wednesday through Friday at various clinics around campus. The last 500 doses will be given today at the Merrill Cultural Center from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Any registered UCSC student under the age of 25 is eligible to receive the H1N1 vaccine and, students can charge the $15 administrative fee to their student account or pay by check or cash. Many major insurance carriers as well as Blue Cross Anthem (USHIP and GSHIP) will reimburse students for the cost of the vaccine.
The UCSC Health Center is waiting to receive its remaining 5,500 doses of the vaccine from the CDC, which has slowed down its dispersal due to a national shortage.
Drew Malloy, medical director of the UCSC health center, said he is unsure when the rest of the shipment will become available.
“We’re waiting like everyone else for more of the vaccine,” Malloy said. “We were told [by] November, but [the beginning of] November has come and gone. Everyone is very concerned.”
Knudtson expressed similar concern, stating that it is unusual to have this much flu activity at this time of year.
“Normally the flu season starts in December and peaks in February,” she said. “Since April of last year, it has never gone away.”
Third-year Destiny Ghergich was diagnosed with H1N1 two weeks ago. After experiencing a week of typical flu symptoms — like a sore throat and body aches — as well as H1N1 specific symptoms, including diarrhea and vomiting, Ghergich was able to pinpoint the offending virus as the H1N1 with the help of Cowell Health Center’s flu hotline.
“Sometimes you don’t think it’s real until it happens,” Ghergich said. “I kind of just laughed when I learned I had it.”
Ghergich recalled symptoms of chest pain, difficulty breathing and coughing fits, as well as blurred vision and darting eyes.
“[The hotline operator] said that all these symptoms are terrible and that I needed to go see a doctor,” she said.
She added that the operator called her back “really worried” to check up on her.
The doctor that Ghergich visited, from medical clinic Doctors on Duty, prescribed her vitamins, antibiotics, cough syrup, Ibuprofen and Codeine. The doctor also advised Ghergich’s seven housemates to take regular doses of Vitamin D to assist in the prevention of possible infection.
Although healthy now, Ghergich strongly suggests that students decrease their likelihood of contracting H1N1 by getting the H1N1 vaccine and normal flu vaccine.
“It’s not something you want to have. I was in bed forever and I hated everything,” she said. “Noises were terrible, lights were terrible. I was always uncomfortable for seven days.”
The H1N1 virus is contagious during the first five days after contraction. Ghergich said she continued going to classes during the key window when she was most contagious, not yet knowing that she had contracted the virus. The fact that Ghergich continued to go to class and interact with other students when she had unwittingly contracted the virus illustrates why college students are among the high-risk individuals able to obtain the H1N1 vaccine so early in the flu season.
“The reason it may be affecting our age group is because we don’t take the time to think, ‘Maybe I shouldn’t go out tonight. Maybe I shouldn’t go to class and [should] get some rest,’” Ghergich said. “No one our age wants to slow down.”