A widely-circulated e-mail from an MIT engineering student suggesting that one of her peers had contracted swine flu contained false information, an MIT infectious disease specialist confirmed this afternoon.
"My good friend's roommate was diagnosed with swine flu yesterday and they're basically in quarantine to prevent the spread of it," stated the e-mail, which reached the open lists for eight of Harvard College's 12 Houses in the space of just five hours this afternoon. "They go to MIT but live off campus in Boston so that means there are definite cases going around the area," the e-mail continued.
But there have been no confirmed cases of swine flu among the MIT student population, said Howard Heller, the chief of Internal Medicine at MIT, in an interview this afternoon. According to Heller, as of yesterday MIT has seen one confirmed case of Influenza A--a general species of the flu virus whose many variants include the standard "human flu" as well as the "H1N1 virus" known as swine flu--but it was unlikely that the person diagnosed had contracted swine flu.
"The person was not at a high risk for H1N1 as far as travel risk or exposure risk, and the specimen was sent to the lab," Heller said. "They're the ones that do the confirmation and we've not heard anything back from them."
According to Heller, Influenza A cases can be diagnosed in a matter of hours at University medical centers using a "rapid flu" test, but any further diagnosis had to come from the laboratory at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. The results of the state test could be days in coming, Heller said, but the case in question did not raise any red flags.
"It's normal to see cases of Influenza A throughout the year," he said. "The thing that would alarm us if we started to see a lot of influenza A occurring in a cluster, or if we saw influenza A occurring in a group of people with additional risk factors."
Contacted for comment by The Crimson this afternoon, the MIT senior who sent the original e-mail this morning wrote in an e-mail that she had no further comment on the matter and that "nothing is confirmed."
More on the message, the flu, and other swine-related things, after the jump.
The mistake was eventually corrected at a later point in the MIT e-mail chain by a first-year MIT student, who wrote at 12:14 p.m, 10 minutes after the original message had made its first appearance on a Harvard house list, that "the girl is at MGH being tested for swine flu. So far, it is only known that she has the flu. When [redacted] sent this email this morning, she didn't know that. Don't freak out, just keep washing your hands and stuff like that."
Thus far, the only two cases of swine flu confirmed in Massachusetts remain those contracted by two boys in Lowell, Mass. who are currently recovering from the illness after a recent trip to Mexico, The Boston Globe reported yesterday.
But that hasn't kept the disease from taking it's toll on the MIT medical center, which has seen increased traffic from people thinking they might have the disease.
"We're really backed up here because of the whole flu thing," said Monique Lewis, a secretary at MIT Medical.
When asked whether the uptick was because more flu cases were appearing, Lewis responded, "No, people thinking they have it."