Swine flu continues slow climb on college campuses

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Influenza-like illnesses on college campuses, generally assumed to be primarily pandemic H1N1 influenza, grew slightly during the week ending Nov. 6, with 8,951 new cases reported -- an increase of 1% from the previous week. There were 15 hospitalizations on the 295 colleges and universities reporting to the American College Health Assn. and still no deaths. Ninety-eight percent of the campuses reported activity, compared to 97% the week before.

In other swine flu news:

-- The World Health Organization on Thursday changed its guidelines for administering antiviral drugs such as Tamiflu, urging that the drug be given to severely ill patients even before the presence of the swine flu virus is confirmed. ‘Seeking early medical attention can save lives,’ said Dr. Nikki Shindo of the WHO’s global influenza program. ‘The window of opportunity is very narrow to reverse the progression of the disease. The medicine needs to be administered before the virus destroys the lungs.’ She said the guidelines, which are similar to those in place in the United States, had not been adopted earlier because agency officials were not yet confident about the safety of the drugs and they feared shortages.


Shindo said the agency is sending emergency supplies of Tamiflu to six countries in eastern Europe where the outbreak is becoming severe: Afghanistan, Mongolia, Belarus, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan. The agency is also sending ventilators to Ukraine, where there have been more than 100 deaths in the last month. The WHO says more than 6,000 deaths linked to swine flu have occurred worldwide, but that figure includes only about 1,000 deaths in the United States. On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that its best estimate is that about 3,900 swine flu deaths have occurred in the United States, which would bring the world total to more than 9,000 deaths. Even that is most likely an underestimate, experts said.

-- In the United States, for the week ending Oct. 23, the most recent for which data is available, 587,960 prescriptions for Tamiflu and other antiviral drugs were filled in the United States, according to Wolters Kluwer Pharma Solutions of Bridgewater, N.J., which also tracks prescription data for the Food and Drug Administration. That total includes 14,673 prescriptions filled in California.

-- Apparently garlic is good for more than Italian cooking and fending off vampires. Many people believe it can also fend off swine flu. Sales of garlic in Serbia have surged and prices have risen sharply as residents have sought out the pungent cloves to protect themselves from the current outbreak there. Serbia has so far had 270 laboratory-confirmed cases of swine flu and eight deaths, up from 130 cases and two deaths at the beginning of the month. Health authorities there have been taking a more rational approach, however, today ordering 3 million doses of swine flu vaccine from Novartis.

-- An Italian inventor has attacked swine flu in his own way, creating an automatic holy water dispenser similar to the automated water faucets in public bathrooms. Some Catholic churches in Italy had suspended the use of holy water fonts, where parishioners dipped their hands in water and crossed themselves for a blessing, because of fears of spreading the swine flu virus. Luciano Marabese devised a terra cotta urn that allows churchgoers to wave their hand under it to trigger the release of a small amount of the water. He said he has received orders from all over the world.

-- Thomas H. Maugh II