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Swine flu epidemic to possibly re-surface
By Christine McLarenIssue date: 3/2/10 Section: News
Lehigh has no confirmed cases of H1N1 flu in 2010, but this does not mean the threat is gone, Dr. Susan Kitei, director of the Health and Wellness Center, said.
"Historians and public health officials who have studied influenza pandemics believe that we may see a third wave of illness this spring," she said.
In most states across the country, cases of the swine flu are considered to be at a low, "sporadic" level. Flu activity is at levels seen mostly in September and October during regular flu seasons, according to an update from the Pennsylvania State Department of Health. The update stated, "During the last six flu seasons, flu activity peaked in mid-February. This year, we may be reporting the lowest flu activity during the traditional 'peak weeks.'"
There has been a slight increase in influenza-like illness (ILI), according to the American College Health Association.
ACHA research shows that "for the week ending Feb. 19, 59 percent of 178 colleges and universities reported new ILI cases, compared to 52 percent reporting new cases for the previous week. This represents the first increase in disease activity since the end of November 2009."
"We don't know what this means yet, but it could be the beginning of an increase in flu," Kitei said. "Only time will tell how widespread and serious the 2010 H1N1 flu will ultimately be," she continued. "It is possible the immunity gained from vaccination will or has already mollified the impact of the virus."
The Health and Wellness Center estimates that, between September and December, approximately 500 students had swine flu. Also, about a third of Lehigh students have received the H1N1 shot, Kitei said.
"In my opinion, the media may have over-reported on swine flu, particularly on concerns over the safety of the vaccine," Kitei said. "The media made it seem like the H1N1 vaccine was being rushed through and was 'too new' to be safe. In reality, new seasonal flu vaccines are manufactured every year, and side effects from flu vaccines are infrequent and rarely serious."
Kitei reported there have been zero reports of vaccine failure.
Professor Sharon Friedman, director of the Science and Environmental Writing Program, agreed the fears of the vaccine were not well-founded. "Most people get science and health information from television media," she said. "Doctors had a fair amount of television time to explain what was known, what was unknown and about the vaccine."
"It's faded from view," Friedman said. "It's not a story; the threat isn't really there."
Friedman said the reservoir for swine flu seems pretty saturated, but a potential recurrence would be among the elderly who have not been vaccinated.
"I'm not really worried because I got the vaccine," Michael O' Laughlin, '12, said. "I don't think the impact will be as bad because we are better prepared."
Marisa Testani, '12, is not worried about the possible third wave of swine flu.
"Even though the threat persists, it's not something I worry about," she said. "From what I've heard, it's like the regular flu."
Dara Colasurdo, '10, did not get vaccinated because she got the swine flu prior to its release. "I feel that the vaccine is beneficial for people prone to getting sick often," she said. "It felt like the worst allergies you could possibly imagine. I didn't leave my room or bed for three days." After being infected and no longer contagious, Colasurdo noticed a fear on campus.
"Swine flu has been taken seriously because it's the first pandemic in over 40 years and seems to preferentially harm children and young adults - groups that are usually more resistant to influenza," Kitei said.
She said the media's constant reporting on the public's fears helped to increase anxiety and overestimate the true risk.
"Overall, we're in pretty good shape, and we will wait for the next one to come along," Friedman said.