Health officials at Southern Oregon University are ramping up efforts to prevent the spread of flu among students, following a surge in reported cases of the H1N1 virus at both the college and the local school district.
SOU's Student Health and Wellness Center reported at least 13 cases of influenza-like illness among students since the start off fall term Sept. 29, with the actual number of illnesses likely higher.
Diane Potratz, director of the SOU health center, said the spread of flu across campus is apparent.
"We're certainly seeing an increase in students coming to the center, and an increased number of calls," Potratz said.
The increased illness at SOU coincides with a report that nearly 400 students in Ashland's K-12 school district missed school because of flu symptoms in the reporting period ending last week. School district officials note the number could be much higher — at Ashland High School, for example, 116 students were absent with flu symptoms, but an additional 109 were absent for unknown reasons.
The total represented a 20 percent absentee rate. High-school officials canceled Friday's football games and Saturday's homecoming dance because of the high number of students out sick.
At SOU, the Student Health and Wellness Center has a flu hotline, where university students can keep up to date about the flu's spread, or schedule an appointment at the school's clinic. SOU students who feel sick, or have any questions regarding the flu, are encouraged to call the flu hotline at 552-7000.
When SOU senior Anna Hidle began showing symptoms of the flu last week, she prepared for the worst. Hidle lives with her sister off campus, in the university's family housing units on Wightman Street. When her sister became sick several weeks ago, she knew her turn could be around the corner.
"There have been lots of confirmed cases in family housing," Hidle said.
She called the flu hotline after it became apparent that she was also becoming ill. She says she is heeding the school's advice by staying at home.
"They said you should only leave the house if you feel like you can't breathe," Hidle said.
Potratz with the SOU health center said flu kits are available for any student who feels sick. Each kit contains anti-fever medications, a facial mask, a thermometer and Vitamin C packets. Potratz added that, in some cases, students who live on campus can arrange to have meals delivered to their rooms by campus staff, in order to avoid contaminating others.
"Students should not be going to any classes or community areas if they have flu symptoms," she said. "We want them to self-isolate."
No mandatory isolation measures are in place. But Potratz wants students to take the necessary precautions to protect others.
Hidle, who spent Thursday night in the emergency room receiving treatment for her flu-like symptoms, said her professors have been flexible.
"On the first day of class they told us, 'If you have a fever, please stay home,' " Hidle said. "I would say that they have been very understanding."
Elon Glucklich is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Contact him at email@example.com.