St. Fx residence hit hard by flu

200 showing symptoms at university; 15% absentee rate in some large classes


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Bishop's Hall residence. Photo: Brendan Riley

Nurses and residence staff are delivering non-perishable meals and bottled water to sick students at St. Francis Xavier University. About five per cent of 4,100 students have reported showing flu-like symptoms.

On Friday the university reported 50 new cases and a total of about 200 cases of sick students, says Keith Publicover, vice-president of recruitment and student experience.

But these are not confirmed H1N1 cases. The Canada public health authority has suggested against swabbing for diagnosis since treatment of the seasonal flu and H1N1 flu virus is largely the same.

"Some of the school's largest classes are reporting a 15 per cent absentee rate," says Publicover.

The university is no longer requiring students to provide a note to miss classes or exams. Students could be out of class for any number of reasons, says Publicover.

"Maybe they just have some work to catch-up on."

But despite the large numbers of students calling in sick, having the flu doesn't make students any more popular.

"It's very stigmatizing. If you're coughing, everyone is back-to-the-wall, like, ‘Do you have the swine?'" says Robyn Peters, a resident assistant at St. Francis Xavier.

Peters lives in Bishop's Hall, the school newest residence, housing about 250 students, where the number of sick students is higher than anywhere else on campus.

In a Nov. 2 memo to students, Noreen Nunn, director of residence services, instituted 24-hour quiet hours, suspended all resident events and advised sick students to self-isolate.

"The percentage in Bishop's is slightly higher, but it's in decline," says Publicover.

"Anyone who has flu-like symptoms is being checked on each day."

Peters sees sick students in Bishop's Hall every day.

"It's all word of mouth but there are seven people on the top floor who don't have it," says Peters.

"(On the third floor) there are only four people. It seems like more people have it than don't."

Peters said residence assistants were told in a meeting that if the number of sick students reaches 20 per cent classes would stop.

Publicover however, said the university would take into account many factors before suspending classes.

"We would look to percentage across campuses and in house, look at containment and look to public health and also look at the trend in recovery," says Publicover.

According to both Peters and Publicover, reports of flu-like symptoms are in decline and people are getting better.



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