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CDC confirms swine flu case at ND

Jenn Metz | Thursday, April 30, 2009

The University announced a case of swine flu at Notre Dame was confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Tuesday.

The student, after falling ill almost a week ago, has recovered and is in good health. It is the first confirmed case of the disease – North American Human Influenza A (H1N1), commonly known as swine flu – in Indiana.

An e-mail sent to faculty, staff and students Tuesday afternoon alerting them of the presence of swine flu on campus encouraged students who experience flu-like symptoms to visit University Health Services and faculty and staff to consult their personal physicians.

University spokesperson Dennis Brown, Dr. Rebecca Moskwinski, director of University Health Services and Kelly Jolliff, St. Joseph County epidemiologist spoke to the press in Saint Liam Hall Tuesday afternoon and said the University is working with state and federal health officials to monitor and respond to the situation.

The student, whose name, class year and gender were not released by the University, sought treatment at University Health Services in Saint Liam Hall last Wednesday, one day after feeling ill.

Moskwinski said Health Services followed standing testing protocol when the student displayed typical symptoms of seasonal influenza – sore throat, chills, head and body aches, cough and fever. She said the student was not “seriously ill” and is “doing well now.”

A culture sample taken from the student was sent to the Indiana State Department of Health in Indianapolis for analysis, and Notre Dame was informed Friday the sample was atypical for Influenza A, which could indicate it was the swine flu. The culture was sent to the CDC in Atlanta for confirmation, which was determined Tuesday.

The swine flu, Moskwinski said, is contagious a day before symptoms are displayed and up to seven days afterward. Symptoms show up 48 to 72 hours after being in contact with someone who has the swine flu, she said.

By the time of the student’s diagnosis, the student had “been going out about regular activities” on campus, Moskwinski said.

Jolliff said the case is currently under investigation and the student’s close contacts are being identified and notified.

She said the one confirmed case at Notre Dame is “no cause for panic,” but rather encouraged taking steps to prevent the spread of the illness.

Moskwinski said residence hall rectors are being notified and plans are being made to educate students about illness prevention.

“We’re concerned, we’re taking this seriously, but there’s no cause for panic. We’re not closing down the University, we’re not canceling public events.” Moskwinksi said.

According to a University press release, classes and final exams will continue as scheduled.

She said neither the CDC nor the state are recommending closing down the University, but rather offer guidelines on how to educate on disease prevention.

Some students on campus expressed concern at the limited information released by the University about swine flu.

“I’m slightly concerned. It’s a pretty big pool of people so it’s not absolutely impossible that somebody could contract it,” junior Mary McDougall said. “I would like to know age and dorm. I’m worried that we’ll wake up and hear that cases are here there and everywhere. College campus is a perfect place to spread disease.”

Freshman Erin Wurst said she would like to know where the student lives, if the student lives on campus.

“I guess if it’s in my dorm, I’d like to know. I actually got up to go wash my hands when I heard about it,” she said.

The affected student did not recently travel to Mexico, the epicenter of the swine flu outbreak. Over 150 people have died from the disease in Mexico, according to a Tuesday Associated Press report.

The eight students studying abroad in Mexico this semester have been in contact with the Office of International Studies regarding the situation, according to OIS director Kathleen Opel.

There are seven students in Puebla and one in Monterrey.

On April 24, Opel said, the Mexican government cancelled classes in all schools and universities until May 6. The semester was effectively finished with that cancellation, she said, and arrangements for students to complete final papers and exams are being finalized.

Opel said OIS has worked with Anthony Travel to arrange for the Notre Dame students to return to the United States by the end of the week.

It is not known how the student back at Notre Dame’s campus contracted the flu strain.

Of the about 65 cases of swine flu reported domestically, all have been mild or the patients have recovered, according to the CDC.

Jolliff and Moskwinski listed the precautions offered by the CDC to prevent the spread of the disease, including regular hand washing, avoiding touching the nose and mouth, and being careful while coughing or sneezing. They recommend staying home if feeling ill.

Students, faculty and staff were alerted in an e-mail Monday of the public health emergency notice issued by the Department of Homeland Security that said University Health Services “is prepared to handle any influenza outbreak, if necessary.”

Information on swine flu is available from the CDC at www.cdc.gov/swineflu and from Health Services at uhs.nd.edu

Madeline Buckley and Robert Singer contributed to this report.