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Flu Bug Hits Teams Hard

A bye week couldn't have come at a better time for No. 8 Mississippi with at least 17 football players currently suffering from flu-like symptoms, including quarterback Jevan Snead. Several athletes played sick during Sunday's 45-14 win against Memphis, and 15 missed practice on Tuesday.

Even though Mississippi has been vigilant about trying to prevent the spread of the virus, no amount of preparation can completely protect athletes who share locker rooms and dorm rooms. Beyond the concerns about swine flu or H1N1, the seasonal flu has also made its annual return to campuses.

Across the country, numerous programs have been hit by the flu or flu-like symptoms, including athletes at Tulane, Duke, TCU, Alabama, Louisiana Tech, South Florida, SMU, LSU, Florida, Wisconsin and Washington State. The reported cases of H1N1 have been limited, though Georgia kept redshirt freshman safety Makiri Pugh home from the Oklahoma State game because of a positive test.

Stillman College, in Tuscaloosa, Ala., canceled its home football opener last weekend against Clark Atlanta because of swine flu, the Associated Press reported. Stillman players complained of flu-like symptoms during practice last week.

Athletes are sometimes a higher risk for the virus due to extreme workouts and practices that place greater stress on the body and suppress the immune system, says Shannon Singletary, Mississippi senior associate athletics director for sports medicine. "There's definitely a correlation between the heat and humidity that we played in (on Sunday), because if you suppress that immune system, you really stress it and really open yourself up," Singletary said. No Ole Miss players have tested positive for the swine flu virus yet, Singletary said.

Given the student health center is so overwhelmed with cases, Ole Miss athletes are reporting their symptoms to athletic trainers. "We are trying to isolate them as much as we can, pumping them with fluids and treating the symptoms," Singletary said. Ole Miss' training staff usually administers flu vaccines to all athletes in November. This year, they'll start in October and hope to include the swine flu vaccine when it becomes available.

Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt has been educating players about the issue for weeks. Two weeks ago after a presidential panel warned that up to half the U.S. population could be infected by H1N1, Nutt talked to the team about prevention. "I'm just worried about how this thing spreads. It spreads pretty fast with everyone being so close in the same room and same locker room," Nutt said Monday.

Signs reminding athletes to wash their hands have been posted throughout the Rebels' training facilities, locker rooms and restrooms. Last month, the team's "Meet the Rebels" fan day was canceled due to concerns about exposure to the virus. Janitors routinely wipe down every doorknob throughout the buildings. Each night, antibacterial foggers are set off in the locker and training rooms.

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