C of C swine flu cases grow to 120

A technician runs tests for swine flu. The number of cases locally is rising, but health officials say there's no reason to panic and people with flu symptoms should stay home.

The number of cases of suspected H1N1 virus at the College of Charleston has grown from 12 to 120 in the past two weeks while The Citadel has reported 29 cases in the same time period.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the H1N1 vaccine Wednesday, which puts it on track to begin arriving in limited quantities around the country in mid-October.

State health officials hope to have most of the high-risk groups vaccinated before South Carolina's flu season typically kicks in during January and February. Seasonal flu vaccines will be increasingly available in the coming weeks. Health officials recommend getting both shots.

Because the H1N1 virus is the current circulating strain, health officials are assuming those with "influenza-like illness" now have the swine flu virus.

"The only people who are getting tested (for H1N1) are those who are hospitalized," said Dr. John Simkovich, regional public health director for the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.

Still, Simkovich and others said there's no reason to panic -- just pay attention and take precautions.

Michael Robertson, director of media relations at the College of Charleston, said most of the flu cases at the college have been "relatively mild," and that those who had the flu weeks ago are back in the classroom.

He said that students with flu-like symptoms have been encouraged to come to the student health center. Those with flu get Tamiflu, a surgical mask and hand sanitizer and are urged to "self-quarantine." They also are recommended to get a "flu buddy" who will help get them food and assignments while they recover, thereby limiting others' exposure. Roommates of students with flu also get Tamiflu.

Robertson added that numerous students reporting to the health center who thought they had the flu actually have seasonal allergies and strep throat.

Of the 29 cadets at The Citadel with flu-like symptoms, three are in the infirmary being treated with Tamiflu and three are on medical leave. The latter live relatively near The Citadel and the school has provided them leave so they can be at home rather than the infirmary, said Citadel media relations coordinator Charlene Gunnells.

All 23 others were treated and released after being symptom-free for 24 hours.

The Citadel is providing updates on flu activity on a Web site, www.bulldogalert.info, every other day.

Gunnells said the school started providing updates on the flu last spring but that updates are now more frequent.

Simkovich said the flu outbreaks are about what health officials expected, or even a bit lower than expected, and that nothing unusual has happened. The colleges and school districts give daily reports to the health department, which is monitoring the reports for clusters of activity.

"The thing about it is that we have it in the community, but the only defense we have now is preventive measures," Simkovich said, referring to hand-washing, covering up while coughing and sneezing and staying at home while sick.

Do we expect to see increases in cases when the weather gets colder? Probably."