Dozens of flu cases reported

More than 35 students have reported having flu-like symptoms in the last one and a half days and preparations to combat the spread of sickness are escalating, University officials said Wednesday.

Are students afraid of swine flu?

The Student Health Service reported it saw or screened 17 students with flu symptoms on Tuesday and an additional 20 students as of noon on Wednesday, said Sarah Baldassaro, assistant vice president for communications.

Due to the widespread nature of swine flu, only patients who have been hospitalized are having their flu swabs tested for the H1N1 virus, said Dena Iverson, spokeswoman for the D.C. Department of Health. Iverson added, however, that it is “likely” the flu cases at GW are swine flu, “due to time of year and due to the fact that H1N1 is the prominent strain” of the flu currently circulating. Baldassaro declined to comment specifically on whether or not University officials expect the reported illnesses are swine flu.

University administrators are urging students “to stay in their room, to stay home from class or work, and avoid contact with people as much as possible for at least 24 hours after fever subsides without the use of fever reducing medications,” Baldassaro said in an e-mail.

Because the H1N1 strand of the influenza virus is highly contagious, the University said they are taking measures to ensure that the University can continue its day-to-day operations, including the upcoming recruitment sessions for Greek-letter life organizations this weekend.

“The Dean of Students Office is providing briefings and guidance on symptoms and prevention to staff and student groups as needed, including residence hall staff and sorority and fraternity groups in advance of rush activities,” Baldassaro said.

Director of Greek Life Dean Harwood said that officials are meeting with sorority recruitment leaders to help stem the spread of the flu during this weekend’s formal recruitment.

“The Dean of Students Office has scheduled a briefing with recruitment leadership on H1N1 symptoms and prevention. We have supplies of hand sanitizer ready for recruitment and have advised that any chapter member with flu-like symptoms should not participate. We have also asked our Recruitment Counselors to monitor for any students with flu symptoms,” he said in an e-mail.

In addition, the University is educating professors on how to use specific Blackboard technologies that allow students to communicate with their professors from their residence hall rooms, so that infected students can continue their academic pursuits, without compromising the health of others.

Jeffery Lenn, associate vice president for academic operations, said that while Blackboard cannot replace a classroom setting, it can offer professors the opportunity to lecture and collect assignments while students cannot attend classes.

“Instructors have been told to work closely with students to help make up work,” Lenn said. “The assumption is that any work that is missed will be made up.”

Professors have been receptive to the use of the Blackboard technology.

“Because H1N1 is also highly contagious, I’ve told my students to stay at home if they suspect that they are coming down with the flu,” religion professor Irene Oh said, adding that she is “not taking any chances,” and plans on using Blackboard throughout the semester.

Elliott School professor Kathleen Smith said a student in her class already reported that she was ill with the flu.

“I did assure my ill student that we would find a way for her to make up missed work when she recovered and I urged her to stay home until she was genuinely recovered,” Smith said.

Baldassaro said students can check the Campus Advisories Web site for updates on the flu situation.

Maxwell Nunes contributed to this report.

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