Cover Story: H1N1 and college campus

By Jeff Atkinson - bio | email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Swine flu could soon be spreading faster than we've seen so far.  100 students at Wake Forest University were diagnosed with and treated for swine flu.  And experts believe college campuses could be the catalyst to a nationwide epidemic.  PrimeTime's Jeff Atkinson explains in our Cover Story.

A White House report suggests up to half of the population in the U-S could be infected with H-1-N-1 by winter. Many of those cases starting on campuses.

College campuses are taking this very seriously.  And we could see some drastic measures being taken very soon.

The Centers for Disease Control says swine flu is spreading more quickly in the southeast.. where school's started back earlier.

Wake Forest is one of several universities here in the Carolinas where H1N1 has already hit.

Here they're making preparations for the worst case scenario and the ultimate.. having to shut down.

It's become standard operating procedure grabbing the hand sanitizer for Joel Simpson an R.A. at UNC Charlotte.

It's now in the lobby of his dorm.  Part of an all-out onslaught the university's doing.. along with e-mail and other information the university's getting out about swine flu and how to prevent.

Everyone here knows why.

"There's such a large amount of people in such a small area," says Simpson.  "Anything spreads quick.. the flu, cold, anything like that's prone to spread quicker."

It's arrived.  100 confirmed cases of swine flu at Wake Forest.  UNC Wilmington 273.  Western Carolina has 106 cases.  UNC Charlotte so far has confirmed two.

"A college campus is ripe for a process like this to really infect a lot of people."

Dr. Robert Jones.. Medical director at UNCC's Student Health Center says they've never faced anything like this before.

Because this virus is new.. more people are susceptible.

And here.. where they share bathrooms and everything else.. and living in a setting with a shared ventilation system.. once one gets it, if precautions aren't taken, they all can all have it.

"We know that it'll be here and be here in good numbers at some point this year. So we're being cautious," says Dr. Jones.

And pro-active.  Employees wear pins that read "Be Flu-less.. not clueless."

And they're running through the scenarios should predictions come true that half the population will become infected.

Jenn Grim is a residence coordinator at UNC Charlotte.  She says, "I look at it as more with my position and my job and how we're going to be able to maintain the work that we do with students with only 50-percent of us healthy."

Across the country, some campuses are keeping entire dorms empty for isolating infected students.

And a school district on Long Island is telling children not to do this..chest bumps.. and high fives.

It's getting serious.

At UNC Charlotte.. they don't want to overplay it or underplay it.. Nervous? they're cautiously aware.

Morgan Roseborough is head of Business Continuity Planning at the University.  He says, "No college or university wants to go this far.  We may face the fact that we have to close."

They don't anticipate having to go that far.. but it wouldn't be prudent for the university not to have plans in place should this thing take off.

It's why they're pushing the prevention side.. and doing everything they can to keep students from getting sick in the first place.

Good news is this flu seems to be milder than first thought.

And that's the other message, doctors are getting out.

You shouldn't necessarily need to run to the doctor.. most cases run their course naturally.

Go to the doctor if your temperature reaches 103 or higher.. if there's vomiting, a rash or a change in behavior.