Swine Flu Hits Several Campuses

U. of Delaware reports 10 probable cases. Several colleges call off student trips to Mexico or bring students home early.
April 30, 2009

Ten students at the University of Delaware have been diagnosed with "probable" cases of swine flu, to date the most significant outbreak on a college campus in the United States. At least three other campuses may also have cases: the University of Notre Dame has a confirmed case of a student who had swine flu and who has recovered. San Diego State University has a suspected case and California State University at Long Beach has a probable case. (Confirmation and the varying levels of certainty reflect federal health guidelines and the status of inquiries into cases.)

To date, the cases are not life-threatening and college activities have not been seriously disrupted.

At many campuses in the past few days, college officials have called off study abroad programs in Mexico.

At the University of Delaware, several large events have been called off for today, but classes are taking place as scheduled. Patrick Harker, president of the university, spoke at a press conference Wednesday afternoon and said that health advisers had urged the university to stay open. Screening and treating students is easier with the university open than it would be if students dispersed, Harker said.

Harker, along with state officials who appeared with him, struck a tone of seriousness, but not panic -- and urged students and the state to keep the outbreak in perspective. University officials noted that as of noon Wednesday, more than about 100 students had turned out for evaluation, reporting potential symptoms (many of which are typical of other forms of flu). Harker noted that on an average day the student health services treats about 170 students.

Delaware officials said it was too early to determine how the students were exposed, but at least one of the students with a probable case traveled to Mexico for spring break. Health officials are currently interviewing the students to look for patterns.

Teagan J. Gregory, president of the Student Government Association at Delaware, said in an interview Wednesday evening that students were naturally concerned, but that the university was giving them lots of information and that students were handling the situation calmly. "I don't think anyone is panicking," he said.

The International Association of Emergency Managers-Universities and Colleges Committee and the University of Oregon have issued an online map with all higher education cases in the United States.

Many colleges have been issuing information or alerts about the situation, with institutions close to the Mexican border saying that they are monitoring the situation especially closely. The University of Texas at Brownsville-Texas Southmost College, a joint campus right on the Mexican border, has reported no outbreaks, but is planning a campus forum for Friday and has barred all employee trips to Mexico unless certified as essential by a division vice president. The San Diego Community College District is distributing information and hand sanitizers on its campuses.

With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommending that Americans avoid non-essential travel to Mexico, many colleges announced Wednesday that they were either calling off summer programs or were bringing home early students who are currently in Mexico. In these cases, however, colleges said that they had no indications that students were ill or in imminent danger. Dartmouth College announced that it was bringing 12 undergraduates, a faculty member and others back from a Spanish program in Cholula. The group had planned to be there until the end of May.

Among other colleges making announcements Wednesday were Indiana University (calling off summer programs), Michigan State University (bringing some students home and scheduling meetings to consider whether to go ahead with summer programs), and Western Michigan University (bringing students back early from a program at the University of Queretaro).


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