Interviews provide students with information about H1N1 swine flu — for reporting assignment and for personal application

The guest speakers in yesterday’s class were to help the students get ready to write a story about the H1N1 flu.

I provided the expert sources for the story — Dr. Guy Nicolette, chief of staff at the University of Florida’s Student Health Care Center (SHCC), and Paul Myers, assistant director of the Alachua County Health Department. After our in-lecture interview, the students were to determine an angle on the story and then do their own reporting — interviewing at least two “average” people who could be sources for the story about the flu.

Every semester, I select a story topic for a group reporting initiative and invite guest speakers to help the students learn about the topic and to learn about interviewing. I often select a topic that I think will have personal relevance to the students beyond the experience of writing the story. Certainly the H1N1 flu falls into that category.

Dr. Nicolette and Mr. Myers talked about strategies for avoiding getting the flu — getting vaccinated, using cough and sneeze etiquette (coughing or sneezing into a tissue and disposing of the tissue or sneezing into one’s sleeve), and washing hands frequently. They talked about what is different about this flu — It is active year-round versus the typical seasonal (November to March in Florida) flu. It has more impact on age groups typically not as affected by the flu, healthy young people.

Some of the headlines for me:

pigsite– The debate over what to call this flu. Dr. Nicolette advocated saying “influenza” so as to distinguish between this respiratory flu versus gatrointestinal flu. The State of Florida Department of Health has decided to use H1N1 swine flu. Using “swine” in the name has caused confusion and some unwarranted concern about the safety of eating pork.

– The severity of the H1N1 influenza. Mr. Myers said that as of now, on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, the H1N1 swine flu is a 2.

thermometer– Students don’t own thermometers. Dr. Nicolette said he was taken aback in how few students he had dealt with at the SHCC knew if they had a temperature because they didn’t have a thermometer. We did note that The Florida Flu Kit does include a digital thermometer.

– As 99 percent of all the flu cases that were being tested in the county were found to be H1N1, UF and the county health department have stopped that testing. The assumption now is that the current cases are H1N1.

– During the 2008-2009 school year, the SHCC had between 550 to 600 visits due to influenza. Already in the 2009-2010 school year, the SHCC has had more than 800 visits due to influenza.

– Those who were born before 1957 have more resistence to the H1N1 swine flu. The theory is some illness that was similar to the H1N1 flu occured before 1957 that has provided those who were exposed to it with resistence.

– If you think you have influenza, you don’t need to seek medical attention in most cases. You can obtain information at a number of online health sites including’s UF’s SHCC.

Certainly this was one of those classes where what you learn is nothing to sneeze at.

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