Don’t worry, but H1N1 has found its way to Jishou

JISHOU, HUNAN — It was only a matter of time before swine flu would penetrate into the Chinese heartland. Within a week of classes starting at the university, a student was diagnosed with H1N1.

Then another a day later. According to some (unverified) reports, perhaps eight more students may be infected as well.

Jishou University has four campuses. The first student diagnosed with H1N1 lives at the old campus, near downtown. The second lives here at the new campus. Their roommates are being monitored as we speak.
I haven’t heard any bad news from the other two campuses, medical and foreign languages.

Our students have had the fear of God (or something like it, since China is officially atheist) put into them at meetings earlier this week. Wash your hands. Cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze or cough. Throw your tissues away immediately. Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth. If you feel ill or feverish, go directly to the school clinic, do not pass go, do not collect $200.

My foreign affairs officer, Cyril Hu, called me to his office this morning to give me an oral thermometer (A mercury one! The USA has all but abolished those.) and two sheets of instructions (in Chinese!?) about what precautions to take against the swine flu.

Meanwhile, rumors and fears are bubbling through the student community. One girl texted me to say there were “several” people down with the flu. Another student on QQ told me she had heard the uni would ban any travel during the upcoming eight-day National Holiday break. Both rumors proved to be false.

The same student on QQ said she was reluctant to study in the library, or even in her dormitory (she has nine roommates), since we are supposed to avoid crowds. She advised me to avoid going to the old campus or even downtown to go shopping for the same reason.

I told her I would be cautious, and advised her to do the same, but not to be fearful. Just the same, she told me she bought some medicine to help ward off the illness. She didn’t tell me what.

Chinese officials say there have been only two deaths out of the 4,400 confirmed cases of H1N1 infection so far. Most people are getting ill with fairly mild symptoms and recovering within a few days.

But, the swine flu is spreading quickly. Since we just finished summer break, many students have poured in from all parts of Hunan, including the capital, Changsha, where there have been at last nine confirmed cases. Many students also traveled over the summer to the big cities, like Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, where there are many more international travelers. Students and tourists are the vectors for the virus. It was just a matter of time before H1N1 came to our little neck of the woods.

China’s government, which early on was requiring all airline passengers to be checked before they even got off the plane, will soon start a nationwide vaccination program against the flu. Schoolchildren will be the first to receive the vaccine.

[I can just imagine the hue and cry in the USA were the Obama administration to attempt something like that!]

With a population of 1.3 billion, many of whom live in crowded cities, China has the right to be worried. The juggernaut of manufacturing the world’s consumer goods can’t afford (literally) to get sick.

I’m not worried. I’ll follow orders and wash my hands a lot, take my temperature once a day, and call my FAO if I feel sick or if the mercury rises. And I’ll keep an eye on my students, too.

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