LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - The war against the H1N1 virus is underway by health officials. President Obama officially declared it a national emergency and this week, one of the most at-risk groups for contracting the virus in Louisiana is getting its hands on the vaccine.
The latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control show the H1N1/swine flu outbreak is still spreading and still attacking mostly the young - including 95 percent of college campuses. McNeese State University Dean of Student Services Toby Osburn says, "Our assumption is that we have about 40 cases of likely H1N1 flu."
At MSU, Osburn says dozens of students have presented with flu-like symptoms since the Fall semester began. "This population is prime for that, they're a perfect target not only for the disease," says Osburn, "but also a perfect target for the immunization campaign and that's why we're trying to roll it out as fast as we can."
The university's proactive steps paid off. They are the only college within the University of Louisiana System offering the H1N1 vaccine at this time. An H1N1 immunization clinic has been set up on campus to administer the vaccine on a priority basis. "There's a decision tree screening instrument that the nurses use for determining whether or not the student is eligible to receive the vaccine and the type of vaccine that they receive," says Osburn.
Dr. Peggy Wolfe is the Dean of the College of Nursing. She says her staff is following the priority guidelines from the CDC to first vaccinate students and faculty within the health care system, followed by those in residence halls and eventually the entire campus population on a voluntary basis. "The risk of contracting H1N1 is high for this age category," says Dr. Wolfe, "and we hope that all students will give it serious consideration."
Students under the age of 49, who are not pregnant and have no underlying health problems can take the live attenuated vaccine in spray form. Students over the age of 49 will be given a shot. 2,100 vaccines were initially shipped from the federal stockpile to McNeese's campus, but Osburn says they expect thousands more in the near future. "As soon as we receive that," he says, "we'll go into the next phase of identifying targeted groups and try to make it available to the broad student population."
*McNeese State University was chosen as one of the first campuses in Louisiana to receive the vaccines because they are an official immunization clinic with trained staff to administer the vaccines. When the next phase of vaccines is implemented, university officials will contact eligible students.