(U-WIRE) – The University of Nebraska-Omaha is taking several precautionary steps after a student died last Wednesday night of what was believed to be the H1N1 flu virus.
Chancellor John Christensen sent out an e-mail to the UNO community on Friday, stating that a student had died from complications from H1N1.
Local media reported that the victim was 22-year-old Khrystyna Serednytsky, a UNO psychology major who had been diagnosed with muscular dystrophy at birth.
Serednytsky had been enrolled for the fall semester, but she did not attend any of her classes during the first week of school. She did not take any courses over the summer, according to Christensen’s e-mail.
“Khrystyna just lost her battle with a very strong and complicated illness,” Serednytsky’s mother, Hayla, said in a Facebook message posted on Khrystyna’s wall Aug. 27.
“First it collapsed her lungs, then liver . then heart.”
In an interview, Hayla said Khrystyna had been at home for a week diagnosed with Influenza Type A and is still waiting to hear back on whether Khrystyna’s official cause of death was linked with the H1N1 virus.
“Upon learning of the student’s death, members of UNO’s Incident Command team were involved in assessing the situation and risk factors,” Christensen said in the e-mail. “We believe, at this time, that no UNO student, faculty or staff member has been exposed to the virus from this known case.”
With information from the Douglas County Health Department, UNO has developed a flu season policy stating that “the purpose of this policy is to help ensure workplace health and safety and the well-being of students, faculty, staff, family and visitors to the university by reducing the potential or actual exposure to the Novel Influenza A Virus or seasonal flu.”
However, this policy mainly serves as a framework for school attendance.
Marcia Adler, director of UNO Student Health Services, said that the university has revised its school attendance policies for students, faculty and staff to adhere to the safety of the UNO community.
“The first week of school, we’re all saying that we want you to come to class. and yet on the flip side, we’re saying, ‘Stay home if you’re sick,'” Adler said. “We were trying to come up with a policy that would allow the flexibility so we can continue education and allow people to get well and get their families well.”
Adler said that individuals should “self-isolate” themselves and adopt a “flu buddy,” especially students living on-campus, to tend to their needs when ill.
“I think college students kind of feel bulletproof – nothing’s going to happen to me, I’m not sick, I’m healthy,” Adler said. “We’re asking people to let somebody know if you’re not feeling well, so somebody will check in on you just because, if it does go bad, it will go bad quick.”
Student Health Services is assembling flu kits to distribute to the residence halls. The flu kits include pain reliever tablets, cough suppressants, disposable thermometers, hand sanitizer and brochures on limiting the spread of the disease.
Adler said Student Health Services is going to continue to treat everyone with care, as well as implement proper hygiene procedures, such as frequent hand-washing, disposing of used Kleenex and maintaining a clean work or living space.
Students should also consider getting the H1N1 flu vaccination.
“Douglas County has allocated UNO enough vaccine, so we can vaccinate everybody,” Adler said.
Dr. Philip Smith, chief of infectious diseases at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, said the vaccine is currently being tested for safety and should be ready in October.
“It’s not as good as the normal one, in the sense it looks like it doesn’t give you as much immunity as one shot,” Smith said. “Even if they have a vaccine that works fairly well, sometimes the side effects won’t show up until a month or two later.”
Douglas County Health Director Dr. Adi Pour said that she suspects the activity of H1N1 to increase as fall approaches.
“In Douglas County, we have more than 100 cases, but we really have stopped counting cases,” Pour said. “The reason for it is that many physicians do not do a laboratory test anymore. It’s difficult to get the data.”
Students should still beware of the seasonal virus and other rhinoviruses that cause the irregular cold, Pour said.
Even in her sudden passing, Serednytsky will live on in the hearts of her friends and family.
Eugene Sedletsky, a close family friend, said was a “wonderful person.”
Serednytsky and her family, immigrants from Ukraine, helped Sedletsky and his family begin a life after immigrating into the United States soon after.
“Her kindness and zest for life was a core part of her personality that you’d never see her vibrant and determined outlook falter,” Sedletsky said. “She was always ready to take on the challenges of life, despite the unfortunate circumstances that she always had to bear.”
Serednytsky never let her battle with muscular dystrophy get the best of her.
Amit Mukherjee, a close friend, said her passion and kindness were her defining characteristics.
“She was a student of the human psyche and was always aware of how many people erroneously arrived at the conclusion that a disabled body must correlate to a disabled mind,” Mukherjee said. “She still worked hard to see the good in everyone and through empathy, attempted to excuse the behavior of those who often acted inexcusably.”