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Purdue sees upswing in flulike illness, awaits vaccine

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The number of students reporting flulike illnesses rose last week following a steady decline.

Between Monday (Oct. 19) and Friday (Oct. 23), 119 students with flu symptoms contacted the Purdue Student Health Center, bringing the totals since Aug. 30 to 559. Eighty-nine samples were sent to the state for testing to determine if they were H1N1 (swine flu); 51 were positive and 23 were negative. The results for the remainder are pending.

Meanwhile, Purdue is waiting for a major supply of vaccine. When it arrives, the vaccine will first be available to students, faculty and staff under age 25 who are pregnant or have underlying health concerns that suppress the immune system, said health center director James Westman.

The vaccine is shipped to the Tippecanoe County Health Department, which, in turn, distributes it to health-care providers in the area. The priority groups for receiving the vaccine are set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Underlying health problems would include asthma, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, HIV/AIDS, kidney or liver problems.

For those who opt to obtain vaccine off campus, Purdue will cover the costs for faculty and staff insured by a Purdue medical plan.

Most flu patients continue to have relatively mild cases, much like those associated with the seasonal flu, and there have been no reported hospitalizations of Purdue students. Individuals under age 25 are thought to have little or no immunity to this virus. The symptoms usually last for five to seven days.

Generally, patients who are otherwise in good health have been advised to take the same steps they would for any type of flu. For those with mild symptoms, it may not be necessary to see a health-care provider. At the advice of the CDC, antivirals such as Tamiflu have been reserved for patients with flulike illness who also have underlying health problems.

Students can call the Purdue Student Health Center at 765-494-1700 between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends. After hours, students can call for advice to the Collegiate Assistance Line at 866-272-7119, PIN 390. The Purdue Pharmacy is open 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays when classes are in session.

To prevent spreading the illness, Westman advises:

  • If you are ill with influenza, do not attend class or go to work. Purdue supervisors may require that ill employees stay home. If you are a student, contact your professors, instructors or employers to let them know you are ill as soon as possible. If you need help with this, contact the Office of the Dean of Students right away.
  • If you live in a Purdue residence hall, let your residence hall adviser know. Sick meals can be prepared for you. They also can provide cleaning products for you and those around you.
  • Stay home at least 24 hours after your temperature returns to normal without the aid of medicine. This is important to avoid medical complications as well as to stop the spread of the disease
  • Isolate yourself, or go home if possible. If you can’t do either of these, suggest your roommate relocate until you no longer have a fever and other symptoms. The ill person also should wear a mask when others are present to prevent spreading the infection.
  • Use the buddy system. Ask friends to check on you and help buy what you need.

“It’s a good idea to have a thermometer and fever-reducing medicine such as acetaminophen on hand,” Westman said. “You might also want to put some hand sanitizer in your backpack and living area. The Purdue Student Health Center provides these to patients with flulike symptoms who seek care there.”

As with most viruses, flu is spread primarily by coughs and sneezes or by touching contaminated surfaces and transferring the virus by hand to your nose, mouth or eyes. To increase the chances of staying healthy and helping prevent spread, he suggests:

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
  • Cough into your sleeve or a tissue to prevent spreading germs. Do not cough into your hands. Dispose of tissues in a wastebasket.
  • Refrain from spitting and sharing beverages, food or eating utensils with others.
  • Wash your hands with soap under warm running water for 20 seconds and rinse your hands well. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Dry your hands using a paper towel or air dryer. If possible, use the paper towel to turn off the faucet and turn the doorknob. Be sure your hands are dry before directly touching anything.
  • Consider getting a vaccination against the seasonal flu, now available at the Purdue Student Health Center. While vaccines will not protect against H1N1, they will protect against previously known flu strains.

More ways to minimize risk can be found at the CDC’s Web site on homecare at

Flu symptoms usually appear 24-48 hours after exposure to the virus, and people remain contagious for up to seven days after the onset of symptoms.

Basic flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, fatigue, chills and body aches. Seek emergency care immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting

Updated information from Purdue and government agencies will be available at A link also can be found on the Purdue home page.

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