As classes resumed this week, Carnegie Mellon University began wrestling with a possible outbreak of a flu bug federal officials warned all summer would rapidly spread through college campuses with the return of students.
At least 26 students at the Oakland university have flulike illnesses consistent with the symptoms of H1N1, or swine flu, an influenza strain that emerged in spring and swept the globe, said Anita Barkin, director of Student Health Services.
She sent an e-mail Monday evening to Carnegie Mellon students and employees informing them of the sick students. The e-mail made its rounds to other Western Pennsylvania universities that are opening this week and next.
"When I got that e-mail, I almost fell out of my chair," said Keith Paylo, dean of student affairs at Point Park University, Downtown. "Their students just moved in."
The students comprise less than 0.3 percent of Carnegie Mellon's 10,000 students. The majority are freshmen living in dormitories, and none was sick enough to require hospitalization.
The university didn't notify the Allegheny County Health Department about a swine flu outbreak, nor did any other college, spokesman Guillermo Cole said. The department stopped tracking individual cases, and the state Department of Health no longer tests for potential swine flu in most otherwise healthy people.
Swine flu is especially infectious among people younger than 50 because their immune systems never encountered a similar virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It could infect as much as half the U.S. population, potentially killing up to 90,000 Americans, according to a report released Monday by the President's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology.
Last week, the departments of Health and Human Services and of Education released swine flu guidelines to help colleges prepare for the return of students living in close quarters, a situation that makes it easier for viruses to spread. The guidelines reiterated common-sense precautions, such as frequent hand-washing, covering coughs and sneezes and encouraging students and staff with flu-like illnesses not to come to class until 24 hours after all symptoms abate.
The guidelines say colleges should send home students whose parents live nearby and try to find rooms separate from …