Pitt students live with swine flu on campus

By Julie Percha

For Pitt sophomore Pat Every, it all started with a slight temperature.

Then came the back aches. A stuffy nose. Severe fatigue.

And next, the diagnosis: H1N1.

“I was like, ‘Oh great. This might be the swine flu,’” Every said of his worsening symptoms. “I just [have] bad luck like that.”

With his diagnosis, Every joined the more than 310,000 people worldwide who have contracted the H1N1 virus, according to the World Health Organization.

And the virus is not just confined to Oakland. Chancellor Mark Nordenberg announced Tuesday in a statement that there have been reported cases of influenza-like symptoms on all of Pitt’s regional campuses.

Every said that when his symptoms quickly worsened, he decided to visit Pitt’s Student Health Services for a solution.

But when he described his flu-like symptoms to the doctor, Every was diagnosed with H1N1 — without an actual swine flu test.

“I thought it was kind of odd,” Every said of his test-less diagnosis.

Pitt spokesman John Fedele said that since it is an outpatient service, Pitt Student Health does not offer official H1N1 tests to students.

“Confirmatory tests are only conducted on those individuals that are hospitalized,” Fedele said in an e-mail.

Instead of a test, he said the CDC recommends that doctors assume that all patients with an influenza-like illness have the H1N1 virus.

Though symptoms of the H1N1 virus vary — including congestion, runny nose, fatigue, fever or sore throat — Fedele said that “there is not a single distinguishing symptom that confirms [an influenza-like illness].”

Pitt senior Julia Lynch is also among the students whom Pitt Student Health physicians diagnosed with the H1N1 virus.

The marketing major said she first felt ill while out with her friends on a Thursday night, and her body ached so badly that she had to go home to rest.

By Friday night, she had reached a temperature of 102.8 degrees and could barely move.

“I was just on fire,” Lynch said. “I felt like I was run over by a train.”

Her roommates knew that she was ill, and one drove her to Student Health Services.

As per protocol, the physician did not issue an H1N1 virus test but instead diagnosed her on the spot.

Lynch said the physician gave her strict instructions to self-isolate — that is, to confine herself to her room and have minimal contact with others — because the virus can be highly contagious.

The doctor also recommended that she continuously drink fluids, take aspirin or a fever-reducing medication and get plenty of rest.

But the most memorable of the doctor’s orders? “They gave me a face mask,” Lynch said.

Like Lynch, Every said the face mask was the most unforgettable part of the diagnosis.

Every said his yellow mask — which extended from the bridge of his nose to the tip of his chin, covering his mouth and nose — attracted plenty of attention from passers-by.

“I felt weird. I felt so weird,” Every said.

He said people passing him on the street stared at his mask and quickly moved out of his way.

“They definitely were apprehensive to be near you,” he said. “Because [the H1N1 virus is] new, people are afraid of it.”

But the mask was the least of his worries, Every said, because all he wanted to do was sleep.

After he made it back to his room, he said he “just kinda passed out when I hit the bed, which was nice.”

For both Every and Lynch, the days following the H1N1 diagnosis were somewhat of a sleepy blur.

“I slept. I basically slept all [day],” Lynch said. “I’ve never slept so much in my life.”

Both said they spent time fighting off nausea in their rooms — Every sleeping and watching TV on his laptop, Lynch reading and catching re-runs of “True Blood” online.

During their illnesses, Every and Lynch said their professors were understanding of missed classes, allowing them to make up the work when they felt better.

Even with such sympathy, Lynch said the missed work was a hassle.

“I wish it had been earlier in the semester,” she said.

She also said she found support from her parents, including her mother, a nurse who sent a “get-well” care package and called to offer tips for a speedy recovery.

Every’s parents couldn’t visit him in Pittsburgh but consistently texted him to check in with a dose of humor, he said.

“My dad kinda laughed, because right when the whole swine flu thing happened, I was like, ‘Yep, I’m gonna get that,’” Every said.

Heath Lattanzio, Pittsophomore, is one of four roommates who shares a suite in Brackenridge with Every.

He said he wasn’t concerned about catching the virus, because Every only seemed to be very sick for about a day.

“I’m in the same room as him, so if I caught it, I caught it,” Lattanzio said. “I really didn’t think it was that big of a deal.”

Lattanzio said he’s seen people become more ill with the seasonal flu than with the H1N1 virus.

“None of us ever got [the virus] from him,” Lattanzio said. “[It’s] not too much to be afraid of.”

Lynch’s roommates were also supportive, volunteering to bring her food.

But they might not have been as lucky as Every’s roommates.

“I think I accidentally got one of my roommates sick,” Lynch said. “All I can hear is her coughing.”

Both Every and Lynch said they aren’t sure how they contracted the H1N1 virus, but Every said that it’s not a terrible one.

“The flu, I know, is a lot worse than this,” he said, comparing the H1N1 virus to the seasonal flu, which he contracted last year. “From having it, it just didn’t feel like it was as big a deal as people make it out to be,” he said.

He said that his recovery moved more quickly with the H1N1 virus, with his fever breaking in less than 48 hours.

Lynch agreed.

“I feel like this one moved pretty fast,” Lynch said. “I was only completely down and out for 30 hours.”

She said that both flus made her feel “really achey,” but the largest difference was the symptoms. The seasonal flu used to make her nauseous, while the H1N1 virus caused a very high temperature.

Despite the differences, though, Lynch said the H1N1 virus might not have lived up to the hype.

“I don’t feel like it was that big of a deal,” she said. “It was just another bug to get over for me.”

Health officials expect that college students are at the greatest risk of contracting the H1N1 virus.

Guillermo Cole, a spokesman for the Allegheny County Health Department, said in a previous interview that unlike the seasonal flu, the H1N1 virus will likely target younger people.

Those older than age 65 were exposed to a virus similar to H1N1 between 30 and 50 years ago and thus have some immunity to it. College students, he said, won’t have that immunity.

Aside from that, Cole said it doesn’t appear that the H1N1 virus will be more severe than the seasonal flu.

Despite the flu’s effects, both Every and Lynch used humor to overcome the virus.

Every said that he might keep his mask as a souvenir of his H1N1 experience.

Lynch, however, has bigger plans for her facemask.

“I think I’m gonna keep it. I was contemplating wearing it out for Halloween,” she said.

“After, of course, I Lysol it down.”