Despite public health recommendations, students ignore guidelines to prevent H1N1, study says

The thump from the techno-rock competed against the clamor from the distinctive party chit-chat; cheap plastic ping-pong balls were protected like a costly commodity; used red cups inexplicably vanished; close quarters quickly created close friends; spilled beer layered the floor, leaving a sticky tack indicative of only a long evening’s work.

This was just another typical Friday night party in Davis.

Entertaining as they are, party environments present an inherent risk - the kind of risk against which public health officials have adamantly advised caution, and the kind of environment they say provides a breeding ground for the H1N1 swine flu.

But students don’t seem to care. According to a recent study conducted in part by Simmons College Center for Hygiene and Health in Home and Community, other college students from around the country are also not following recommendations from the Center for Disease Control to help protect themselves from H1N1 and other threatening germs.

Danielle Splawski, a senior neurobiology, physiology and behavior major, co-host of a party last week, finds even the publicity to be comical.

“I was actually thinking about wearing a mask so no one would sit by me,she said.I’m pretty claustrophobic, and I figured people will think I have something, and leave me alone.

Francisco Cordero, a senior biochemistry major and also a co-host of the party, was similarly unconcerned, despite his complaints that he, himself, felt ill with flu symptoms.

“It’s not anything to worry about unless you’re 99 or two years old,he said.

Despite coverage in the media and many universitiesefforts to encourage prevention - UC Davis, in particular, has provided e-mails, sent letters to parents and created an extensive website that details the prevalence of H1N1 - many students, it seems, according to both the study and anecdotal evidence, are not following the recommendations.

“My experience is that [college-aged people] feels pretty invincible and don’t always follow safety recommendations like bike helmets, condoms, etc.,wrote Thomas Ferguson, M.D., Ph.D., and Medical Director of the Student Health Center, in an e-mail.I strongly encourage all of the guidelines regarding prevention. Sharing drinking glasses and beer bongs is going to be a good way to spread viruses.

According to the release, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that universities and parents should encourage students to follow these healthy hygiene routines:

Practice good hand hygiene. People should wash their hands often with soap and water, especially after coughing or sneezing. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.Practice respiratory etiquette. The main way flu spreads is from person to person in droplets produced by coughs and sneezes, so it’s important that people cover their mouth and nose with a tissue when they cough or sneeze. If they don’t have a tissue, they should cough or sneeze into their elbow or shoulder, not their hands.Stay home if they are sick. Stay home or in their place of residence for at least 24 hours after they no longer have a fever.Talk to their health care providers about whether they should be vaccinated. More information about priority groups for vaccination is available at www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/vaccination/acip.htm.

These guidelines for prevention have been available for some time, however. Getting students to follow them is the difficult part, said Valerie Lucus, CEM, CBCP, UC Davis Emergency & Business Continuity Manager, in an e-mail.

“Students don’t want to miss class, they don’t want to wear surgical masks, they don’t want to clean their rooms,she said.How are we going to convince them this is serious and important?”

Splawski and her peers, it seems, don’t believe the virus is either serious or important though.

“It’s just the flu,she said.Everyone is making it seem like it’s the Black Plague.

 

DAVID LAVINE can be reached at campus@theaggie.org.

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