A dozen students at the College of Charleston have tested positive for swine flu, and it could be the beginning of an outbreak.
Health officials forecast that swine flu cases would be prevalent among students, and the college is the first local school to confirm cases. Officials estimated Tuesday that the flu could spread to as much as 40 percent of the campus.
The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control said most cases in the state are mild and, as with seasonal flu, most people don't require hospitalization. Most deaths associated with swine flu, also known as Novel H1N1, involve people with underlying health problems.
The 12 college students who tested positive for swine flu complained of flu-like symptoms, said Mike Robertson, the college's senior director of media relations. Officials told those students to isolate themselves from their roommates and to stay away from classes until they're better. The college gave masks, hand sanitizer and Tamiflu to them, and their roommates have been encouraged to contact campus health services to determine whether they can take Tamiflu to prevent catching the flu.
Flu cases rarely appear until after Christmas, so seeing them now could indicate a tough flu season this year, Robertson said. "It's out there, and the fact that it's this early is troubling," Robertson said.
DHEC officials have asked the public to be aware of the virus and to take precautions, such as frequent hand-washing, covering coughs and sneezes with tissues instead of hands, and getting the swine flu vaccine when it becomes available, likely by late October. The DHEC will begin taking appointments next week for regular seasonal flu shots that will be available Oct. 1.
A Midlands child with serious health issues died last week from complications associated with swine flu. The the state has had more than 500 confirmed cases of swine flu.
Local public school districts have been gearing up for handling students with swine flu, and their precautions include designating separate rooms in which students with flu-like symptoms can wait for their parents to pick them up and increasing students' awareness of the importance of good hygiene.
Colleges nationwide are beginning to report cases of suspected and confirmed swine flu, including schools in Kansas and Georgia. The College of Charleston is the only local school to confirm swine flu cases, and it has asked anyone with flu-like symptoms to visit campus health services.
The college e-mailed its entire student body and faculty before school resumed last week to alert them to the possibility of an outbreak on campus. It has established a comprehensive plan to dealing with a possible widespread outbreak of swine flu and a Web site that's updated daily with information about swine flu.
The college will begin dispensing regular seasonal flu vaccines Sept. 14.
To schedule a seasonal flu shot at the Charleston, Berkeley or Dorchester county health departments, call the Department of Health and Environmental Control at 953-0090. A vaccine for swine flu is expected to be available as soon as late October.