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St. Liam’s prepares for flu

Nicole Toczauer | Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A rising number of influenza cases in the South Bend area has prompted Notre Dame Health Services to prepare for a spike in the number of visits Notre Dame students make to St. Liam’s Hall in the next few weeks.

Mary Ellen McCaslin, assistant director of clinical services, said Health Services has noticed the appearance of influenza strains on campus over the last two weeks.

“We do what is called a QuickFlu Test and we have had some positives in the last few weeks,” McCaslin said. “We expect to follow the trends seen in surrounding regions, which indicate a rise in the incidences of influenza cases.”

Despite the expected escalation of flu cases, McCaslin said Notre Dame is in a much better position than last year.

“The H1N1 Swine Flu that we saw last year is not showing itself this year. It caused a bit of a panic in the college health sector and the public as well,” she said. “People were nervous, but that outbreak was certainly not what was predicted.”

McCaslin said she predicts H1N1 will remain absent, though a mutation might reveal itself at some point.

“We were just reviewing information from the CDC website today and saw that the H1N1 has mutated into what the CDC is now calling H3N9 or N3 right now,” she said. “That’s the kind of flu we expect to see.”

Though mutations occur, telltale signs of the flu are the same as always, she said. Students should be on the lookout for fevers, sore throats, headaches, chills and fatigue. Once detected, the usual course of action may be taken to expedite the duration of the illness, though there is no instant cure for the flu.

“This is a self-limiting illness that will run its course as all viruses do,” McCaslin said. “They are not effectively treated by antibiotics because it is not a bacteria, it is a virus.”

McCaslin said treatment — except in extreme situations — is generally the same. Rest and fluids, accompanied by Tylenol or Ibuprofen to control the fever allow the illness to run its course. A new product on the market, Tamiflu, is rumored to accelerate recovery, though McCaslin said it is not markedly better than traditional treatment methods.

“The effectiveness of Tamiflu if pretty limited,” she said. “All it does is reduce the duration of the illness by one to three days.”

Other parts of Indiana have demonstrated surges in illness and virus activity, said McCaslin, demonstrating a development in this year’s flu season.

In anticipation of the next few weeks, McCaslin said Health Services encourages students to practice flu prevention with good hygiene.

“The best thing that anyone can do is to sneeze and cough into your elbow and not into your hands. Alcohol-based hand rubs are a great way to keep germs under control, but washing your hands vigorously with soap and water is still the best way to reduce germs,” she said. “Stay away from people who are sick if possible, and use common sense.”