Official: H1N1 cases see lowest weekly increase

A St. Thomas health official reported the lowest weekly increase in H1N1 cases of the semester Nov. 18, with just more than a 2 percent increase from the previous week.

H1N1chart1Madonna McDermott, director of the Student Health Service and Wellness Center, said there have been 502 presumed cases of H1N1 at St. Thomas this semester. Cases were self-reported on the university’s pandemic planning Web site and seen in the on-campus clinic.

McDermott said the frequency of cases has decreased significantly but students should still be concerned about the virulent virus.

“This particular virus, H1N1, seems to have had an attack rate higher on younger folks than the seasonal flu,” McDermott said. “It seems like nationally we’re seeing some dipping but there are still pockets of it that are pretty active.”

The Minnesota Department of Health reported 21 confirmed deaths from H1N1 in its weekly update Nov. 14. The latest data also showed the virus’ activity is continuing to decrease slightly for the second straight week in Minnesota.

Nationally, nearly 3,900 people, including about 540 children, are believed to have died from H1N1 in the first six months of the epidemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last week.

The St. Thomas community was reminded of the virus’ dangerous potential last week when St. Thomas graduate student Jill Belde died after being hospitalized with pneumonia and a H1N1 infection.

“Jill’s death I think has just been really something very sad,” McDermott said. “You read about the potential but when it happens to somebody within your own community or family it makes it become much more real… It’s certainly heightened our awareness.”

Mobile screening unit to stay until after vaccines arrive

The Student Health Service continues to conduct H1N1 student screenings in its mobile screening unit between Brady and Morrison Halls. McDermott said the Student Health Service will continue to rent the trailer for the distribution of the H1N1 vaccine, when it will reassess the need for the mobile clinic.

Early this month, the CDC said the current supply of the H1N1 vaccine is likely to wane before more vaccine arrives.

Yet McDermott said she is hopeful that the vaccine will arrive at St. Thomas before Thanksgiving. She said the clinic is currently keeping a list to give priority to community members who will most need the vaccine when it arrives.

Students up to age 18, staff in the child development center and any emergency personnel with direct contact with patients or health care workers will receive priority once the vaccine arrives.

Many don’t feel the need to receive the vaccine

In a weekly TommieMedia poll, 64 percent of voters responded that they don’t feel the need to receive the H1N1 vaccine. McDermott said students should still be cautious.

“As with all influenza vaccinations, it’s a personal choice,” McDermott said. “If they choose not to become vaccinated they should continue to be real prudent with self-care and prevention measures.”

John Krebsbach, associate dean of academic advising and special programs, said there are just a couple students who have had to withdraw from classes due to H1N1.

“Certainly there have been a few students who have gotten behind, but it’s usually because of other complications,” Krebsbach said. “If its H1N1 and nothing else, students are usually back in class within a week.”

Brent Fischer can be reached at