Swine Flu Cases Hit Campus, But UC Doctor Calls Symptoms Mild

By Richard Brenneman
Monday September 14, 2009 - 02:42:00 PM

Swine flu is alive and well at UC Berkeley, and so are the many students who have contracted the H1N1 influenza virus, reports campus Medical Director Brad Buchman. 

“H1N1 has been widely established in the community for a long time,” he said, but to date, no cases with serious complications have been reported. 

“Our first case was diagnosed in May, and we tested a lot of students early in the course of the pandemic,” Buchman said. “But the state testing facilities were quickly overwhelmed. 

“Over the past summer we’ve been following public health recommendations not to test, since over 98 percent of the tests done on people with flu-like illnesses this summer and fall have turned out to be positive for H1N1.” 

The campus physician said he couldn’t provide an accurate estimate of the prevalence of the virus on campus, and public health agencies are recommending against testing because “this illness is generally mild and most patients will recover” without the need for a doctor visit. 

Students who call in are given advice over the phone or referred to the university’s website posting on the disease at www.uhs.berkeley.edu/home/news/H1N1.shtml#FAQ. 

Over the summer, University Health Services was seeing an average of 40 to 50 people a day with respiratory symptoms, of whom between 10 and 20 were manifesting influenza-like symptoms, he said. 

There’s been a slight increase in recent weeks as students have returned to campus for the start of fall classes.  

The campus has been in close touch with the Berkeley public school system, and Buchman said neither he nor Berkeley city Public Health Officer Dr. Janet Berryman “ever felt that the illness was severe enough or widespread enough to warrant class cancellation” at the university.  

The physician said the federal Center for Disease Control have advised against canceling classes. 

One factor that could force changes in class scheduling would be if enough students were infected to warrant changes. 

For the most part, he said, the campus is focused on a public education campaign to acquaint the community with measures everyone can take to head off the bug. 

In addition to what Buchman called “an aggressive hand-washing campaign” and videos on proper cough etiquette, university officials are “promoting the message that everyone who becomes ill should self-isolate until they become fever-free for at least 24 hours.” 

UCB Provost George Breslauer, in a campus-wide announcement sent out Wednesday, said “The campus’ Pandemic Flu Preparedness Team, led by medical and public health experts at University Health Services (UHS) and School of Public Health, is monitoring the situation with local, state and federal health officials.” 

Buchman said Friday that “UHS is in the process of becoming a ‘sentinel provider’ to assist the City of Berkeley and the State of California Public Health departments in monitoring the outbreak. This involves periodic sampling of specimens from patients with influenza-like illness to have more detailed and in-depth analysis done to better understand the course of the current pandemic. 

“In addition,” he said, “we are providing weekly reports to the UC Office of the President. UHS will continue to be the primary source to contact for information about the extent of H1N1 illness at the UC Berkeley campus.”  

Vaccine for the ailment is currently headed for production, and Buchman said he expects local delivery by late October or early November. 

Once supplies on hand, depending on how much is available, those most at risk will receive highest priority, including pregnant women, those with chronic medical conditions, and students, faculty and staff who are under the age of 2, the physician said. 

Anticipated cost of the shots will be $17.