September 10, 2009

Vanderbilt student health staff kept busy with flu-like cases

The novel H1N1 flu virus is a presence on the Vanderbilt campus, as it is on many U.S. university campuses, but it appears to be no more serious than the regular seasonal flu, Vanderbilt’s chief student health official says.

The novel H1N1 flu virus is a presence on the Vanderbilt campus, as it is on many U.S. university campuses, but it appears to be no more serious than the regular seasonal flu, Vanderbilt’s chief student health official says.

Dr. Louise Hanson, director of the Zerfoss Student Health Center, said the center is seeing approximately 30 cases of influenza-like illnesses a day. “The severity of the symptoms and the duration of the illness – about three to five days – are similar to seasonal flu,” she said.

Treatment for H1N1 is also the same as for seasonal flu: Rest, drink lots of liquids, and most important, stay away from others until fever free for 24 hours, without fever-reducing medication. Some patients may also be candidates for anti-viral medications, which are prescribed by the Student Health Center on a case-by-case basis, in compliance with the Centers for Disease Control’s recommended treatment guidelines.

Now that it’s evident that novel H1N1 influenza virus is circulating widely in the community, the center is not testing everyone who has a flu-like illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Tennessee Department of Health guidelines don’t recommend testing for all probable cases. In fact, the Tennessee Department of Health is only accepting tests from Vanderbilt’s Student Health Center one day a week, as part of the center’s participation in the state’s Sentinel Provider Network, which the center has participated in for a number of years.

Test results for the cases that are sent to the Tennessee Department of Health can come back 10 to 14 days later – most often after the infected person has recovered. If a student needs to be treated with the antiviral drug Tamiflu, it is most effective if it is given within 48 hours of onset of the flu, so the Student Health Center must make treatment decisions and diagnoses based on symptoms, exposure and physical examination, rather than on confirmed culture data, Hanson said.

In addition, the rapid influenza tests that are done in medical offices such as Student Health are not as accurate in diagnosing novel H1N1 influenza. “Only 50 percent of culture confirmed H1N1 cases will show up on the rapid influenza tests, making the clinical scenario and examination more important than the rapid testing result,” she said.

Hanson said the center’s staff is seeing record numbers of students for this time of year – 200 or more on most days. In addition to the flu, Hanson said the center is also seeing students with mononucleosis, strep throat and end of summer colds. For that reason, she urges students who think they might have the flu to contact the Student Health Center for an appointment or to talk to a health professional to help determine whether they need to come to the center.

To cope with the large number of students visiting the center, a special Sunday clinic was held last week and will be held again this week from 2 to 5 p.m.

In addition, the staff has been administering the vaccine for the seasonal flu this week to students with immune system deficiencies and those who are pregnant, have young children at home or have some other factors that make them high-risk.

Hanson said as soon as the center’s main supply of seasonal flu vaccine arrives, all students will be notified through e-mail to come in to receive the immunization.

The H1N1 vaccine is still undergoing testing at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and several other centers around the nation. Information about when that vaccine will be available and how it will be administered won’t be known until the testing is complete. Hanson said once she receives that information, she will notify students through an e-mail.

Vanderbilt has taken several steps to help prevent the spread of the flu and to help students who are ill, including:

  • Passing out hand sanitizer and information on preventing the flu to students during move-in.
  • Providing hand sanitizer stations at academic and public buildings throughout campus.
  • Setting up a meal delivery system through Dining Services so that sick students do not have to come to the Dining Hall.

Several websites with FAQs and detailed information about H1N1 at Vanderbilt have been created: and and be visited for additional information.

Contact: Elizabeth Latt, (615) 322-NEWS