Laurier copes with H1N1

Wilfrid Laurier University’s on-campus clinic at Health Services has been overloaded with the early onset of influenza season, which, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), has hit the northern hemisphere earlier than it has historically.

With testing unavailable for those suffering from mild and moderate cases of H1N1, Laurier has been left with an indeterminate amount of infected persons.

“Basically you had to be sick enough to be hospitalized to ensure that the testing would be done,” said Laurier’s Health Services manager Karen Ostrander.

Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang, the associate medical director of health for the Region of Waterloo, explained that “the guidelines that are set for testing by the provincial experts are recommending that testing be done on hospitalized patients or those who are severely ill.”

“Part of that is to ensure that [the public health lab] can manage the volume of specimens that are coming in,” elaborated Ostrander.

Ostrander noted that severe cases of H1N1 are those that involve hospitalization, usually with the symptom of difficulty breathing. Wang explains that despite the 53 hospitalized cases in the region, the overwhelming majority of flu cases have been mild to moderate in nature.

“The predominant strain has been H1N1, the vast majority of cases, if not all of flu this year, have been of the H1N1 strain,” said Wang.

However, Laurier’s Health Services has come under question as students have raised concerns about being sent home without concrete evidence that they are infected with the H1N1 virus.

For instance, last month Laurier second-year history student Liz Perkins was misdiagnosed with the flu when she was suffering from strep throat.

Perkins expressed her frustration that Health Services may be jumping to the conclusion that everyone is suffering from the flu, whether H1N1 or otherwise, and missing other potential illnesses.

“They’re forgetting that people are still getting sick with [other] things. Strep throat is a pretty big thing and they’re just completely forgetting that you can get sick with that.”

Perkins warns Laurier students against assuming that they have H1N1 just because of all the hype in the media.

“Honestly if [Health Services] just immediately off the bat says it’s just the flu, get them to look again,” she advised.

Situations like these have led to questions regarding the accuracy of sending students home for flu-like symptoms and concerns from students about the amount of class they are missing.

“Most people getting the flu this year have experienced the same mild to moderate illness [for three to five days], so they feel horrible for those days but then they recover,” explained Ostrander.

Mark Karjaluoto, director of communications for Grand River Hospital, concurs with Ostrander, stating that the dominant strain of flu circulating in the region is H1N1 despite lack of testing for cases that remain out of hospital.

“We’ll test as it’s appropriate for someone’s health condition,” explained Karjaluoto.
In terms of vaccinations to avoid the transmission of H1N1, Region of Waterloo Public Health said that as of Nov. 10, 60,000 regional residents had been vaccinated.

During clinics conducted on campus, approximately 1,000 students – most of whom are high-risk individuals suffering from chronic conditions like asthma and diabetes – have been given the vaccine.

And with immunizations being further opened as of Nov. 13 to those 19 and younger, more Laurier students are going to be able to receive the vaccination, as the majority of first-year students now qualify. The next clinic on campus will be held this upcoming Tuesday.

“We would recommend that students get immunized,” said Wang. “We anticipate that shortly [the vaccine] will be opened up to everybody so that all university students, even if they don’t have health issues, will be able to get the vaccine.”

Ostrander and Wang both pointed out that the university lifestyle is a factor in the contraction of flu and that students should exercise care by coughing into their sleeves, washing their hands frequently and staying home when they become ill.

Laurier has implemented measures that other universities have enacted to curb the spread of viruses and bacteria, such as providing students with countless hand sanitizing units in the hopes that the quick alternative to hand-washing will lower transmission rates.

“Regular influenza kills between 3,000 and 4,000 people every year, so we’re not seeing those numbers at this point, thankfully,” said Ostrander.