Student's Flu Death Raises Concerns at Nation's Universities

The death of a college student from the flu has raised the alarm at universities throughout the country as the nation gears up for what is predicted to be a brutal flu season.

The University of Nebraska–Omaha said Tuesday that Krystyna Serednytsky, a 22-year-old psychology major, died of what officials suspect was H1N1 flu. Serednytsky also suffered from muscular dystrophy, an underlying health problem that increased her chances of complications from the flu. She did not not attend classes during the first week of school.

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The college death was believed to be the first in the U.S., where numerous institutions are reporting seeing scores of students with flu-like symptoms just one week into the fall semester. Wake Forest University in North Carolina said Tuesday that more than 80 of its students have reported flu symptoms. Georgia Tech is reporting that roughly 100 students have flu-like symptoms, as do at least 23 students at the University of Virginia.

People with underlying conditions are one of five groups of people at the top of the list to receive the H1N1 vaccine when it becomes available in October.

“Our student health director has communicated to all students — especially the high-risk students — and will continue to communicate the symptoms of H1N1,” Steve Bullock, Nebraska-Omaha’s assistant vice chancellor for academic and student affairs, told “We’re telling them that if they have any underlying conditions they should try to be wary of symptoms and keep up with vaccinations.”

The school, which has 15,000 students, is a designated vaccination site, which Bullock said will be helpful. When the H1N1 vaccine becomes available, 10,000 doses of the vaccine will be shipped to the campus.

School officials usually encourage students not to miss classes, but this semester they are telling those who don’t feel well to stay away from other students.

“We’re modifying our attendance policies,” Bullock said. “From what we’re being told, most students won’t be able to get doctor’s notes, so we’ve told professors to be flexible and determine alternative strategies in order to keep them engaged and in the know.”

Students aren’t the only ones being told to take precautions. The University of Alaska Fairbanks offices are being instructed to prepare for as many as 40 percent of their employees to be absent either because they have the H1N1 virus or they are caring for someone who has it.

Additionally, UAF is requiring all new students participating in orientation to learn about H1N1. New approaches to campus dining, housing and medical care are in the works to deal with H1N1 should the school have an outbreak.

UAF spokeswoman Marmian Grimes said the school’s health clinic is prepared to offer disposable digital thermometers so that students can monitor themselves for fever.

And like many other campuses, UAF is looking into a system that would enable it to deliver meals to sick students in their rooms, as well as offer class materials online. There are also plans to separate sick students from their roommates, thus reducing the chances of spreading the virus.

“This has become a really important issue, and with the swine flu, I think everyone is really taking precautions to make sure their spaces are clean,” said John Kelly, a graduate student at St. John’s University in Queens, N.Y. “Everyone has hand sanitizer on them.”

St. John’s, in addition to handing out prevention kits and isolation bags (disposable gloves, thermometers), also sent letters over the summer to students asking them to come to school this fall with a flu action plan.

“We asked all students to consider the idea of the vaccine, and there was a separate bullet directed to high-risk students,” said Kathryn Hutchinson, executive director of student wellness at St. John’s.

“I wanted to make sure I sent that out to all students, because people’s situations change so rapidly. But, if you are experiencing a chronic health condition, you need to speak to your health care provider to determine a plan. (Everyone) should have a plan for flu season.”

The Associated Press contributed to this article.