Everyone remembers last year’s flu scare over the H1N1 virus and the panic that the “swine flu” brought at the mention of its name. But when compared to last year’s flu season, this season would be like comparing night to day.
“A lot more students have been in to get their flu shot this year so that helps a lot,” said Dr. Stephanie Eijsink, on-campus clinic doctor at Tyler Junior College. “It’s free. I recommend students to come in and get it.”
According to the Worldwide Health Organization (WHO), 48 of the upper states besides Florida had widespread out- breaks in 2009. This year, only a handful fall into that category. The pandemic was officially called off June 23 of this year, with officials hoping that it would fall into a nor- mal seasonal pattern.
“It was crazy. Every day was crazy. Stu- dents would pour into the clinic concerned about whether or not they were sick,” said Frank Escobedo, nurse at the on-campus clinic.
“Last year was terrible. It had everyone scared for a long time,” said Dr. Eijsink.
“Scared” is putting it lightly. According to reports from WHO, over 214 countries worldwide confirmed cases of the virus, with 18,449 people dying due to the H1N1 strain. With the virus rearing its ugly head on campus, TJC took action towards protecting students from further outbreaks.
TJC opted for a new policy concerning the outbreak of the virus: if students or faculty present symptoms of the flu, they are required by school pol- icy to stay home for at least one week to prevent spreading the flu among other students, just to be on the safe side.
“In class I told students to stay home if they even think they were sick. There was no use in not be- ing too careful,” said Dr. Michael Mast, professor at TJC. “People were dying from it (H1N1). You never know. You just never know.”
Dr. Mast recalled speaking to other profes- sors who gave the same advice and the campus saw a drop in attendance over the semester. Stu- dents were becoming wary of symptoms present- ed as the flu and chose to stay home just in case.
With the media highlighting just how dead- ly the virus could become, students were ready at the drop of a hat to make runs to the clinic and jump back into bed.
“It was a big deal, don’t get me wrong,” said Escobedo, “but all the attention it got was a bit much. You know how things get blown up on TV.”
But compared to last year’s serious outbreak, where over 80 students were infected on TJC’s campus, this year has been fairly calm. Dr. Eij- sink believes it’s due to the fear of another out- break.
“We have had more people come in for flu shots, which is surprising since they usually aren’t that popular among students,” said Eijsink.
Whitney Williamson, a sophomore at TJC when the outbreak spread, recalls her experience with the virus. “The worst part is the headache, chills and always feeling tired,” Williamson said. “It was nothing fun, believe me.”
Prevention is the first step. Flu shots for not only the Influenza strains A and B, but also for the H1N1 and H2N2 virus, are available in the on-campus clinic free to students with valid student ID. Dr. Eijsink also recommends other steps in prevention.
“Use good hygiene. Wash your hands. Don’t cough on others. Don’t share utensils, food, or drinks,” Eijsink said.
Although outbreaks can occur at any time, WHO announced that the H1N1 strain is now in the post-pandemic stage in September. It will no longer be posted as a serious immediate threat on their site although they will still monitor activity on a two-week basis. This doesn’t imply that contracting the virus is not potentially deadly; if you present symptoms, see a physician immediately.
But for now, students and faculty should prepare for a “more normal flu season” this year, WHO states on their site.
The campus clinic is located on the second floor of the Roger Student Center and is staffed from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays.