The students who cried swine flu -

The students who cried swine flu

As universities urge sick students to stay away, some undergrads are faking H1N1


Thanks to H1N1, Section 16.8 of Dalhousie University’s Academic Regulations, regarding medical certificates in the case of illness  (required to miss classes and assignments with no penalty incurred) has been modified. Since September, anyone with “flu-like symptoms” has been encouraged to stay far, far away from campus, no questions asked. It seems for now swine flu has killed the sick note at Dal. And other universities across the country have put similar policies into effect.

At first it seemed like a pure Godsend. Free to sign their own notes, students quickly expanded the definition of flu-like symptoms to include smoker’s cough, hangovers and an insatiable appetite for TLC’s Cake Boss. One Dal philosophy major has had the virus twice—once in Logic and once in Deduction—and is planning to contract it again before her Epistemology exam. “It’s supposed to come in waves,” she says.

Or not.  Recently the University of Western Ontario started requiring infected students to enter their names into an online database, which could possibly red-flag multiple bouts of the flu.  For students a new question loomed:  how many times could they cry swine flu; and if they did malinger, what happened if they got the real thing?

Strangely, not much. John Doersken, vice provost in academic programs and students at UWO, maintains detecting fakes was never the reason for the database. “The system is in place so that we can provide our public health unit with data on how serious the pandemic is. We can tell on any given day how many students are away on influenza like illnesses.” Or at least, how many claim to be. There’s no telling, admits Doersken, how many students enter their names under false pretences.

And despite acknowledging that some students are likely using the pandemic for their own benefit, Susan Spence Wach, associate vice-president of academic programs at Dal, says their revised no-sick-note policy will remain in effect for now.  “Our main concern is with flu prevention and the care of our student population.” In other words, having some people take advantage of the revised policy is better than what would occur if the policy were left unchanged.  “People with flu-like symptoms,” says Spence Wach, “should not be going out to get sick notes. They should be at home.”
Though no official system is in place, data is also being collected at Dal, says Spence Wach: “On a weekly basis I get reports on student illness; only numbers, never names.”

So while it looks like students jumping on the H1N1 wagon won’t be facing any thorny disciplinary problems, they’re probably the contributing factors in some erroneous public health research—just another chapter in the swine flu fiasco. “For the most part, students aren’t abusing it,” says one Western undergrad, who prefers to remain anonymous.  “However, I have heard of some students who are.  Namely, myself and my roommates.”


The students who cried swine flu

  1. Loved this article. Short, funny and a great eye into the university scene in all its permutations. Let's read more of Emma Teitel!

  2. Great article…finger on the pulse, ear to the ground – Emma Teitle is a witty but no-nonsence correspondent with an "edge". I have read her before, and I always find her to be informative, balanced and engaging in her writing style…I look forward to more of her reality-based insights.

  3. As a fellow university student I can really appreciate this article. Wonderful tone and I definitely agree with the other two comments.

  4. wow, very poignant. as a fellow student i even heard of a case in which a young lady left her co op programme weeks early because she believed she had swine. the real diagnosis is still up for debate, but whats certain is her position in front of her family flat screen tv. thanks emma for a great article.

  5. Great article Emma. Really enjoyed it.

  6. We had vaccination stations at OCAD. I think students are taking advantage of it but they will always find a way, swine or no swine.

  7. I attend University of Toronto and the school cafeteria I work at is falling apart because everyone is calling in "sick". I've settled on the fact that most of these claims of sickness are the abuse of policies set up to protect against an exaggerated epidemic. Especially when everyone seems to be getting flu symptoms right around exam time…

  8. It's not as though it was particularly difficult to fake illness for school – stay up for a full night then shotgun a couple of Red Bulls and you'll look pretty sick when you go in to see your doctor. I've heard quite a few stories of that happening at my school. Besides, the benefits of calling in sick for school are minimal if you're not a terrible student to begin with – midterm or assignment marks often get rolled into a more difficult final, and finals can't be skipped, only delayed to a later term (when the information isn't fresh in your mind and you've got another full course load to worry about).

  9. Isn't it nice that the author's friends all logged on to post such positive, way over the top comments to a fluffy little filler article. Um, kids, this won't get her more work.

    • Hey Mommy…where your friends at?


      The Author

  10. Are you kidding me? Putting people in place to cover positions where people have died of a heart attack? Not listening to an employee who is disgruntled because he does not like his new boss. This is changing society one lever at a time? How about Gay marriage? Not saying I am for or against it, but that is changing society. National Energy Program (and now that they have found gas in Quebec, let's see how they would like that law implemented today). Unilateral decision on multiculturalism. Mandatory wage and price controls. Oh yeah and don't forget what came out of the Gomery Commision. Unilateral decsion on longarm gun control. Coming out with your own numbers in Kyoto, without even your own parties knowledge. These changed society.

    So quit fear mongering about Harper changing society on by changing leadership on a governement board that most Canadians have never heard of, and really does not affect Canadians.

  11. I agree with Mommytoall… after reading the first 4 comments, it's pretty obvious that they are from friends!! None the less, I too enjoyed the article, but I don't know if I would go as far as to call it "poignant"!!

  12. Most of the people I know that had "flu like symptoms" had a term paper or midterm conveniently located within that time period. Seeing as the University of Calgary (which I attend) did not have a campus-wide flu policy, it was at the discretion of the professor to make decisions related to missed class due to (pseudo)H1N1. Seeing as they can't ask for a doctors note (what with H1N1 cases being banned from clinics) they really have no choice but to let it slide.
    Also, agree with Mommytoall… fluffy comments get you nowhere, aim for the angry comments, they're more interesting.

  13. As a university student, I really enjoyed this articled! Well written and very witty!