The total number of reported H1N1 virus cases at Yale nearly doubled this week to 55 cases, Yale University Health Services Director Paul Genecin said Wednesday evening.
The rate at which students are reporting swine flu-like symptoms is dramatically increasing as well. On Tuesday, YUHS received reports of 20 new cases of probable swine flu — a five-fold increase in the reported cases per day that health services had been receiving prior to Labor Day, Genecin said.
The 55 cases reported as of Wednesday are, more likely than not, a conservative measure of the swine flu outbreak, as they represent only students who have contacted YUHS of their own volition. In many cases, students may be reluctant to report their symptoms to YUHS, since the prospect of self-quarantine is unappealing, Genecin said.
In general, individuals who call YUHS with symptoms of swine flu are advised not to come to YUHS and are no longer tested for the disease. The University is sticking to its policy of telling those individuals to quarantine themselves in their bedrooms.
“The typical illness has been a respiratory illness with mild fever, body aches and cough,” Genecin said. “Nothing that hasn’t been responsive to Tylenol, fluids and bed rest.”
Still, Genecin explained that he did not want to take the outbreak lightly because of the severe complications that have arisen for at-risk individuals. Genecin said the University’s quarantine policy is intended to prevent those infected with the highly contagious H1N1 virus from coming into contact with at-risk individuals, such as pregnant women, infants and the immuno-compromised.
“One of the relatively weak but moderately effective ways of controlling an infection is social distancing,” he said. “We want to avoid the situation where an individual with H1N1 is riding up the elevator with an expecting mother going to an ob-gyn appointment.”
But while officials at Yale maintain that the self-isolation policy is in the best interest of all, students afflicted with H1N1, who have been subject to quarantine, are not so sure.
“My only problem with YUHS is that they won’t let you stay there unless you have a pre-existing health condition,” said an student who had influenza-like symptoms for four days last week. She asked that she remain anonymous because she preferred keeping her illness confidential.
After learning one of her close friends had the H1N1 virus, the student said she herself became ill, running a fever and frequently vomiting.
The student said she knew that her friend, who has an autoimmune disease, was staying at YUHS, where she was being closely watched. Concerned about her own symptoms and the possibility of becoming dehydrated, the student said she called YUHS to see if she could stay there and be watched over as well.
“They basically said I was otherwise healthy and that they don’t have room for everyone,” she said. “That I should basically be able to fight this on my own — which I did, but …”
Genecin maintained that while in general, no student who goes to YUHS is turned away, people who report symptoms of influenza-like illness but are otherwise healthy will be told not to come in. Given that YUHS’ in-patient facility can only house 17 individuals, there are not enough beds to house even Tuesday’s increase in the number of sick students.
When a student self-quarantines, YUHS informs the student’s residential college dean and master, who arrange for the student’s meals to be delivered to the individual’s room, often organized by master’s aides. YUHS also arranges for the student’s professors to be notified via e-mail that the individual is ill and will not be in class for a number of days. The e-mail does not specify the illness the student has contracted.
Cooped up in her room and not permitted to entertain guests, the student said it did not take long for her to feel sequestered and admitted to breaking out of her room for a quick trip to Gourmet Heaven.
Genecin conceded that the University cannot ensure that students with symptoms of swine flu follow their instructions to stay in their rooms.
“There is no way to enforce [self-quarantine],” Genecin said. “It’s not a law enforcement situation.”