As the H1N1 pandemic swept the nation last fall, 738 Georgetown students reported symptoms related to this particular strand of flu to the university, according to James Welsh, assistant vice president for student health. Four hundred seventeen students were treated at the Student Health Center or the Georgetown University Hospital, and an additional 321 students called the H1N1 Nurse Advice hotline.
“We treated or knew of [about] 750 students who were ill with influenza-like illness during the H1N1 epidemic,” Welsh said. “It is likely that there were many more ill who did not seek treatment, but this number is impossible to quantify.”
The symptoms experienced with H1N1 are similar to those of the seasonal flu; the H1N1 virus, however, is considered more severe.
Ashley Davoli (COL ’13) experienced typical flu-like symptoms, but was hospitalized for H1N1’s effect on her lungs.
“As it got worse, my fever pretty much stayed around for three or four days, I was coughing and sneezing constantly and felt like I’d been hit by a truck, my whole body hurt,” Davoli said in an e-mail. “It lasted for about nine or 10 days, and my coughing got so bad I had to go to the [emergency room] because I couldn’t breathe.”
Georgetown started preparing for H1N1 months before the pandemic hit campus early this fall. According to Welsh, the university formed an H1N1 task force in the spring of 2009, when H1N1 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. The group worked to implement a plan that included education about preventing the spread of H1N1, isolation plans for ill students and increased sanitization of public space.
Davoli said she believes that the school succeeded in increasing awareness about H1N1 and prevented its further spread by encouraging ill students to stay in their dorm rooms, but she said that in her experience the Student Health Center’s response was slow.
“The health center was incredibly slow in dealing with me, and even though they told me to come in immediately, all they did was tell me to go back and sleep and come back in two days, something they could have told me over the phone,” Davoli said. “I ended up going to the ER because the doctor on call at the health center over the weekend said I’d get faster treatment there than if I came to them.”
The university also worked to provide H1N1 vaccines for students, but received shipments late and in small quantities. According to Welsh, Georgetown originally ordered 9,000 doses of the H1N1 vaccine, but only received 800 doses by Nov. 17, which were given to those in the high-risk category. The high-risk group includes health care workers, medical and nursing students, Georgetown Emergency Response Medical Services paramedics and students under the age of 25 who are at a higher risk of infection.
The university then received 800 more doses on Nov. 19, which were given to all students under age 24 on a first-come, first-serve basis.
“I think the biggest frustration for us was access to vaccine – both the H1N1 vaccine and the seasonal flu vaccine were slow in production and distribution, and much of our epidemic had already peaked by the time we received our first dose of vaccine,” Welsh said. “We were successfully able to give out more than 7,000 doses of both, and I do believe that that effort was particularly effective in helping to make this year’s seasonal flu season relatively mild.”
Although H1N1 affected over 738 students, the university never considered closing due to the threat, according to Welsh.
H1N1 affected other area universities at about the same rate. The George Washington University had about 800 cases of H1N1 last semester, as reported by the GW Hatchet.
As of April 18, 2010, the WHO reported more than 17,853 deaths in over 214 countries.