Of Flu and Football in Tuscaloosa and Beyond

I found some encouraging information about the prevalence of H1N1 or swine flu on the campus of the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa:

— FLU IN REMISSION: The flu virus circulating through the University of Alabama campus in recent weeks appears to finally be on the decline.

“It seems much, much better,” John Maxwell, director of the UA student health center, said Wednesday. “We randomly have checked some during the day just to see if we’re still seeing it. I think (Tuesday) and (Wednesday), we haven’t seen any positives. That is good news.”

Where did I find it? State news, local news, education news? Dream on. It was buried several inches deep in the Friday, Sept. 18,  on-line edition of  the sports pages of the Mobile Register.

It seems sometimes, if it weren’t for sports reporting, we’d no news at all from our Alabama campuses.

Even the NPR affiliate in Birmingham, AL, WBHM found H1N1 among college students in Alabama only worth a mention in the context of game days.   Andrew Yeager’s September 18, 2009, report,  Tide Flu, noted that

Sports Economist Andrew Zimbalist says canceling a game at a small, division three school such as Stillman is less problematic than at a division one program. There’s more at stake for big universities.

“For the schools themselves they can generate in ticket sales millions of dollars in each game. And then they have television contracts. They have television contracts that can also generate millions of dollars or the equivalent of that per game.”

Beyond that, Zimbalist points out if a season is interrupted by cancellations, it could affect perceptions of teams making it to post-season play.

“That becomes tainted if one of the contending teams misses a game or two because of a swine flu epidemic.”

What’s Stillman?

Stillman College, founded in 1876,  is a small (~1050)  four-year liberal arts college affiliated with the Presbyterian Church, and is, like the main campus of the University of Alabama, located in Tuscaloosa.

When 37 of its players and several coaches had flu symptoms in the days leading up to its opening game, the College cancelled the game and the SAIC marked the game up as a  forfeit to Stillman’s opponent, Clark Atlanta.

The team’s coach, L. C. Cole,  told Tuscaloosa News sportswriter Andrew Carroll,

We had to make a decision in the best interest of our athletes. We didn’t want to do any further harm. The college did the best thing as a precaution for our team and our student body too.

This is Cole’s first year at Stillman. Responsibility and integrity: not just talk from this coach.

Meanwhile, down at the University of Florida, we have this from Florida Gators Head Coach Urban Meyer:

“It is a panic level of proportion I’ve never seen before,” Meyer said Sunday, a day after his team’s 23-13 victory over Tennessee. “You hear about, I think, Wisconsin had 40 players. Ole Miss had 20 players. My wife, with her great insight, said, ‘Do you realize the swine flu and everything is hitting the Florida campus last week.’ My gosh.. . .

“We’re trying the best we can, but it’s real,” Meyer said. “We go to the extremes. They get a separate dorm room for them. They get a separate hotel room for them. They put them right on whatever the flu stuff is. Our guys, our team doctors, they’re on it as fast as you can get on it.”

And the Gators have all now had seasonal flu shots. The Associated Press’s Mark Long reported:

The regular flu shots were the latest course of action. They came about a week after one school official predicted that as many as 40 percent of students could catch swine flu.

Uh, what exactly is the connection between those two sentences? The shots available now are the seasonal flu shots. They aren’t going to keep the Gators safe from H1N1.

The AP report goes on to note that only 3 Gators were sick with flu during last Saturday’s game against Tennessee.

[Jeff] Demps, [Jermaine] Cunningham and [Aaron] Hernandez all played against Tennessee on Saturday, but none of them seemed up to par. Demps, who had a 101-degree temperature, ran four times for 31 yards and a touchdown. Hernandez caught four passes for 26 yards. And Cunningham finished with one tackle. “They were beat up pretty good,” Meyer said.

Playing a guy in a contact sport who is running a “101-degree temperature”? That might be how they “go to the extremes” in Florida, but I’d rather have my kid playing for Coach L.C. Cole (the Stillman coach, remember?).

H1N1 [Swine Flu] at University of Alabama: First There Was News. Then There Was None.

What is happening on the Tuscaloosa campus of the University of Alabama?

Let’s review the week of August 18 to 25, 2009.

Tuesday night, August 18, 2009: University of Alabama sends out emails to campus community and parents that there are 21 suspected and 6 confirmed cases of H1N1 (swine flu) on the Tuscaloosa campus.

Wednesday, August 19, 5:20 pm. Birmingham News reports: “University of Alabama officials have confirmed at least 50 cases of influenza on campus, most of them likely the swine flu.”

Friday, August 21, 6:00 am: Tuscaloosa News online:

At least 54 people have tested positive for the flu this week, said John Maxwell, director of the Student Health Center at UA. That number has grown since Tuesday, when there were 21 known cases of flu, but it’s not certain whether the cases are the H1N1 swine flu strain.

And then there was no news.

Trying to find out what is going on 150 miles away at UA, I searched “flu Alabama,” “flu Tuscaloosa,” “H1N1 Alabama” and “H1N1 Tuscaloosa” on Google News:

Saturday, August 22:nothing new about UA and H1N1 in the media.

Sunday, August 23:nothing new about UA and H1N1 in the media.

Monday, August 24:nothing new about UA and H1N1 in the media.

What conclusion am I to draw? 

  1. First there were 6, then 21, then 54. And then no new cases of flu. Amazing! If that is the case, what is UA doing right? Send in WHO, send in the CDC, let them tell their success story. OR
  2. The highly contagious H1N1 flu has continued to spread rapidly and by now there are several hundred cases. But this isn’t newsworthy.

Two things I know for sure: 

  1. You can add one more to that figure of 54: my son was diagnosed Thursday night at 7:00.
  2. He had to go as far as Northport, a community about 5 miles from campus, to purchase a single course of Tamiflu for $120 since the pharmacies closer to campus were sold out.

Several things I’m thankful for: He 

  1. isn’t a freshman or a transfer student who knows no one on campus
  2. knows where Student Health is
  3. had a way to get to a pharmacy
  4. had $120 in his bank account.

But what if. . . what if he didn’t know anyone? The idea of “flu buddies” who will look out for one another is very sweet but more than a tad naïve: how many people are going to put themselves at risk to help a stranger? How are these freshmen and transfers getting food, let alone to the doctor and pharmacy?

And what of those who can’t afford the Tamiflu?

One more thing I know for sure:

In 12 days, some 90,000 people will be crowding into Bryant stadium for the Alabama-Virginia Tech game. They will be shouting and the water vapor-borne viral contagions will be flying. They’ll be holding onto handrails climbing to their seats. They’ll be eating with their hands. A lot of money will be involved.

Could there just maybe, just possibly, be a connection between this scenario and the blackout of updates on H1N1 on the UA campus?