In recent weeks, the media has reported that various college football teams across the country have become afflicted with swine flu. Despite increased warnings about sanitizing hands and exhibiting proper hygiene, the H1N1 virus is still having an impact.
It has been confirmed that two to three dozen players have been affected at Duke University, where the recovery period is estimated at 10 days. Likewise, approximately 30 players on Tulane’s team experienced flu-like symptoms. Schools like Wisconsin have been facing severely low attendance at practice as H1N1 spreads rapidly. Though most of these cases have been mild, the absence of these affected players has caused coaches to cope with the prospect of games being played short-handed. This information leads to the pressing question: how are Cornell’s athletic teams coping with over 600 cases of the influenza diagnosed on campus?
Cornell’s head athletic trainer, Bernie DePalma, said that the athletic department’s main goal right now is to educate coaches and athletes on how to avoid getting sick. The same alert that Gannett has put out for the whole student body is being repeated, and those affiliated with Cornell athletics are being told not to come to practice until 24 hours after their fever is gone, and to constantly wash their hands and avoid sharing items.
“We don’t want them sharing towels and drinks because the disease isn’t airborne; it’s spread through contact of droplets,” DePalma said.
DePalma stressed that educating athletes is of the utmost importance because what really matters is not what goes on during practice, but rather what goes on outside of it –– namely the partying.
One aspect the athletic department is stressing that differs from Gannett’s main alert is early disease detection.
“We want to aggressively identify and isolate athletes as quickly as possible,” DePalma said.
Athletes are encouraged to call health services if they are feeling remotely sick. From there, students are questioned about any underlying health concerns such as asthma. Sick athletes are contacted twice daily to gauge an update on their recovery progress. Flu kits are made available for each athlete, complete with masks for those who feel they need one. In terms of traveling, on-the-road isolation is also being encouraged in order to detain the disease and prevent others from getting sick.
“We’re doing relatively well,” DePalma said, explaining that only about two and a half percent of the 1200 student athlete population has been affected –– in part because of the aggressive measures taken. He added that most athletes experiencing symptoms are fine in 24 hours to four days.
Both DePalma and sports information director Jeremy Hartigan were not aware of any team that was greatly affected, and were not able to name one team that has suffered more than others. Hartigan mentioned that in-season athletes tend to not party as much, thus reducing their chances of getting sick.
“We’re lucky with the numbers right now,” Hartigan said.
One of the most important approaches coaches can take right now is to stress that student athletes should not even think about coming to practice if they experience any symptoms whatsoever. Naturally, coaches can also continue to drill the common-sense hygienic habit of washing hands into the minds of team members.
For the cross-country team, there was only one confirmed case of a student with swine flu on the team, and he recovered within five days.
“I’d suspect that there’s more students sick, whether it be with just the cold or the H1N1 [virus], but nothing is actually confirmed,” said men’s cross country assistant coach Robert Johnson.
The lack of confirmation about the disease, he explained, can be attributed to the fact that if someone feels sick, he or she is just instructed to call Gannett and not actually go in for a check-up unless he or she has underlying medical conditions.
Coach Johnson tries to look at the influenza spread in a positive light, though. Since Cornell is facing a swine flu outbreak now rather than later, the Red probably won’t have to contend with the illness during the peak of the season, in October and November.
Overall, it seems that when considering the growing number of probable swine flu diagnoses on campus, the athletic teams are in good shape. DePalma foresees no canceled games, and it doesn’t appear that any of the Red teams will suffer come time for important in-season contests.