SEATTLE - Washington State University students heading back to school may have helped spread the swine flu by doing exactly what they normally do - socializing and pulling all-nighters.
"They knew they were taking risks by staying out too late, by drinking from other people's cups, and this sort of thing," said Erica Austin, of WSU's College of Communication. "They mentioned repeatedly that they were not getting enough sleep, burning the candle at both ends."
Today, WSU officials will be in Seattle to teach others what they've learned from focus groups and talks with students who were temporarily sidelined by "The Pullman Plague."
In late September, researchers from the WSU College of Communication and the Washington Health Foundation interviewed 20 students and two WSU administrators. Six of the students displayed symptoms unconfirmed but consistent with swine flu.
The idea was to get a snapshot into what students dealt with during the outbreak early in the school year that reportedly stuck more than 2,000 students with swine flu-like symptoms. "With one of the first major H1N1 outbreaks occurring right here in Washington state, we wanted to work with Washington State University to determine the symptoms and remedies experienced by students in Pullman," said Greg Vigdor, President of Washington Health Foundation.
The findings: Though students said they were grateful for the information and the flu kits on campus, many were still too worried about missing classes to stay home. Others did not realize they were an age group particularly at risk for severe swine flu symptoms, and instead "suffered through it" on their own, said Austin.?Many in the focus group reported symptoms that included headache, sore throat, chills, fever and body aches.
"They would get some symptoms, these would start to fade, they would think they're getting better, then they would seem some other symptoms, this made self-diagnosis and treatment and self-isolation somewhat challenging," said Austin.
Researchers also say the outbreak may have been blown out of proportion in new reports because the way county health officials reported the numbers made the swine flu seem more widespread than it really was. The figure in the thousands represented a total number over time, and included students with symptoms who were not confirmed to be H1N1 swine flu patients.
The lesson to take from the WSU outbreak, researchers said, is how to target consistent information about prevention and vaccines. While many students surfed Web sites to find out how to deal with their sickness, "mom and dad" tended to still be the number one source students mentioned calling for help. Also, having a network of people to help you out, even if you're self-isolating due to the contagious nature of the swine flu, can make getting over the disease easier.
Meanwhile, swine flu vaccines are now becoming available in some parts of the country. The first batches to be released are the nasal spray for healthy people ages two to 49.
The shots will be available in a few days. In Western Washington, most of those doses will be offered first to health care workers and first responders. After that, CDC officials are urging families across the country to get them for children and adults alike once the doses are more widely available.