Student Tested For Swine Flu; Results Aren’t In Yet

Meanwhile, Harvard Closes Dental School in Boston

CORRECTION TO THIS ARTICLE: The Friday, May 1 article "Student Tested For Swine Flu; Results Aren’t In Yet" incorrectly reported that an MIT student living off-campus had been diagnosed with influenza A and was being tested for swine flu. The error arose because of a confusion between two cases. A student was seen by MIT Medical on Thursday, April 23 for a respiratory illness and was never tested for influenza. The student's illness has been labeled a "probable" swine flu case because he had recently returned from Mexico and because the Boston Public Health Commission found connections between the student and some of those with "probable" swine flu infections at the Harvard Dental School, said Howard M. Heller, chief of internal medicine at MIT Medical. Whether the student's case was swine flu cannot be determined because samples were not taken for testing on April 23. Separately, an MIT affiliate covered by the MIT health plan, but not faculty or staff, was diagnosed with influenza A on Monday, April 27. The person had no travel or exposure risk, but their case of the flu is being considered a "probable" case of swine flu because their strain of influenza A does not match seasonal influenza strains. The error in Friday's article, based on information from Heller, arose because of confusion between the two cases.

An MIT student was diagnosed with influenza yesterday, and samples taken from the student are being tested for the H1N1 swine flu. The test was routine and the student is not at high risk of having contracted H1N1 swine flu, an MIT physician said.

The student, who reportedly lives off campus, has not engaged in travel or done anything else that would increase their risk of exposure to swine flu, said Howard M. Heller, chief of internal medicine at MIT Medical.

Samples from all confirmed cases of influenza virus type A are now routinely sent to the state health board to check whether the infection is swine flu. The test typically takes several days.

Meanwhile, the Harvard School of Dental Medicine and its dental clinic were closed Friday while the Boston Public Health Commission investigated one probable case of swine flu, the Boston Globe reported. The commission requested that classes be cancelled for third- and fourth-year and post-doctoral students, the Globe reported.

While the World Health Organization is close to declaring a pandemic outbreak of the disease, MIT remains prepared to handle the situation as a tough flu season.

Posters have gone up across campus advertising basic messages: practice good hygiene and avoid sick people. (And if you’re sick, avoid healthy people.) MIT Medical is prepared to handle an influx of patients and has stocked an inventory of antiflu drugs.

For now, the Institute is working to prevent the flu, not to contain it. MIT’s contingency plans for a pandemic could at worst include changing the way Commencement runs or sending some students home.

A speech by the Dalai Lama in Kresge Auditorium went on as planned yesterday. Attendees were asked to skip the event if they felt sick.

Meanwhile, a top MIT administrator asked MIT community members to protect the Institute by staying home if they became ill.

“MIT is a place where persevering through hardship to get the job done is common practice. However, in the public-health situation we are facing, the most valuable thing you can do for the extended family of MIT is to stay home if you are sick,” wrote Kirk D. Kolenbrander Vice President for Institute Affairs and Secretary of the Corporation, in the letter.

“Staff members who are experiencing flu-like symptoms should not come to work, and students who have symptoms should not attend classes, social gatherings or other campus events,” he wrote.

The message for students is clear. But the letter also sends a more subtle message to managers: instead of pushing for attendance, let your staff stay home if they’re sick.

Why do people care about swine flu?

From watching the TV news, or reading Twitter, or reading one of dozens of e-mail forwards passed among mailing lists about a friend’s illness, one might get the impression that swine flu is the next big plague.

Actually, getting the flu probably just means you’ll have a tough week. But for some especially vulnerable people, a widespread flu outbreak could be life-threatening.

The swine flu — Influenza A subtype H1N1 — first attracted international concern late last week when it began to be blamed for a string of deaths in Mexico which now number more than 150.

In the United States, only one person has died among the 109 cases confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control on Thursday morning. The victim was a toddler in a Texas city near the Mexican border.

So far swine flu seems less deadly than, for instance, avian flu H5N1, which has killed 257 of the 421 who have contracted it, according to the World Health Organization.

Influenza can cause dangerous complications in the very young or elderly and in people with asthma or pneumonia. The 2008–9 flu vaccine, given to many at-risk people, probably does not protect against H1N1 swine flu, according to the CDC. A widespread flu could infect many vulnerable people.

On Wednesday, the WHO said that a global pandemic of the disease is imminent by raising its global pandemic level to 5, the second highest level.

As of Thursday afternoon, swine flu had been confirmed in Massachusetts in only two people, children in Lowell who had recently returned from Mexico. As of Wednesday, 40 samples had been sent from Massachusetts to the CDC for testing, the Associated Press reported.