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Swine Flu on Campuses Boosts Call for Vaccinations

Officials expect return of virus that first surfaced last spring

MONDAY, Aug. 31 (HealthDay News) -- As clusters of H1N1 swine flu break out on U.S. college campuses, school administrators are beefing up efforts to encourage students to take preventative steps to keep the virus from spreading further.

Signs popping up on campuses across the country urge young people, who are often the least likely to take the flu seriously, to get seasonal flu shots, cover their coughs, wash their hands often and make use of newly placed canisters of hand-sanitizers, Bloomberg News reported.

Officials fear this is the start of a swine flu resurgence that will be more severe and widespread than last spring, when the H1N1 virus emerged in Mexico and then the United States, before spreading around the globe. To protect schools and communities from widespread infection, experts say it's important to get both a seasonal flu shot and the soon-to-be-available H1N1 swine flu vaccine, which is expected by mid-October.

CVS announced on Monday that it will begin giving seasonal flu shots Tuesday, Sept. 1, at more than 500 MinuteClinic locations within certain CVS stores. No appointments are necessary for the shots, which will be available daily, the pharmacy chain said in a news release.

CVS also said it will hold more than 9,000 "flu shot clinic events" at its stores, starting Sept. 15.

At least 17 U.S. colleges had hundreds of students sick with swine flu the first few weeks of school. This is the highest rate of influenza infection for this time of year since the 1968 Hong Kong flu, said Joe Quimby, a spokesman for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But the CDC isn't surprised. "This is the type of flu activity that we've been preparing for. The H1N1 flu never went away this summer," he told Bloomberg.

Officials said it will take a few more weeks to know if the college cases will turn into widespread flu outbreaks around the country. Since the H1N1 virus emerged last spring, children and young adults have been particularly vulnerable to infection.

Last week, the World Health Organization warned countries in the Northern Hemisphere to prepare for a return wave of infections. So far, the H1N1 swine flu virus has caused 2,185 deaths and more than 209,000 infections globally, the WHO said.

Still, health officials stress that infection from the H1N1 swine flu virus continues to result in mild illness and quick recovery for most people, much like the regular seasonal flu.

To get the attention of college students, the CDC plans to promote vaccines on popular social networking sites, such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, Bloomberg said.

The college campus is a petri dish of sorts for the flu, according to health experts.

"You can envision 200 young people being stuffed into the basement of a smoky fraternity -- what a perfect breeding ground for disease," said Jim Turner, director of the department of student health at the University of Virginia and president of the American College Health Association. He is tracking college outbreaks in the United States.

Once the swine flu vaccine becomes available, federal officials say that priority should be given to children and young adults, health-care workers, pregnant women, adults with underlying health conditions, and parents and caretakers of children under age 6.

More information

For more on swine flu, visit the CDC.

-- Margaret Steele

SOURCE: Bloomberg, Aug. 31, 2009; CVS, news release, Aug. 31, 2009

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