By SCOTT WALDMAN, Staff writer
First published in print: Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Your hands are washed and you're sneezing into your arm while you stay 6 feet away from anyone who looks sick. Now the H1N1 has another way to lay you low: no more beer pong.
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is asking students to curb the sharing of cups after a group of students contracted the swine flu during a weekend of drinking games, according to Dr. Leslie Lawrence, medical director of the school's health center.
"While it might seem fun over the weekend, it will not be enjoyable when you and your friends are sick and missing class or midterm examinations," he wrote in a message distributed to RPI students and staff.
Thus far, RPI has seen one of the region's highest number of swine flu cases among its student population, with 21 cases of influenza, including about 14 that are active. Seven of those students are in campus isolation rooms and seven have returned home with their families. Several staff and faculty have also been experienced flu-like symptoms and Lawrence said the cases are steadily growing.
The latest cases were tied to social events and a school football game, after which students were playing drinking games. Lawrence cautioned students that alcohol does not kill the flu virus and said it was particularly important during social events to wash hands and avoid close contact, concepts that may seem foreign at a college keg party.
Lawrence also warned that students who fear being placed in isolation rooms, which include food service at the door and private bathrooms, should not avoid the campus health center. He cited two cases where students had "unforeseen complications" as a result of their illness and were able to be treated quickly because they were being monitored by health staff. Lawrence said the school expects to offer H1N1 vaccinations within the next few weeks. Influenza already has hit most, if not all, of the Capital Region's college campuses, ahead of the usual flu season.
A men's basketball player and football player were the first two University at Albany students to contract H1N1 virus, an athletic department spokesman confirmed last week though the school is only reporting one confirmed case.
Skidmore College has seen 41 students with flu-like symptoms since the school year began, including at least nine students in the past two weeks. At Union College, there have been 29 flu cases among students, including six in the past two weeks. The College of Saint Rose has also reported a few students with flu-like symptoms.
Colleges and universities in the Northeast saw some of the biggest surges in swine flu infection in recent weeks, according to the latest update from the American College Health Association. In the week ending Oct. 2, 6,326 new cases of students with influenza-like illnesses were reported, with nine hospitalizations, at 273 colleges representing more than 3.3 million students.
The association estimates that about 183,000 cases have occurred among approximately 18 million college students nationwide.