With the increased attention of the H1N1 virus adding to the regular seasonal flu threat, some area high school and college basketball teams have taken a more focused approach to preventing the illness.
"If even one person gets it, that can be a problem for an entire team," said John Ellis, Doctors Hospital's Sports Medicine Coordinator. "I know it's been in the hospitals, but we haven't seen the flu have any major impact on teams during football and basketball season."
It might be no accident that area teams have dodged the flu bullet so far. Some coaches are taking extra steps to make sure their players avoid illness, including Silver Bluff coach Robert McKenzie. At the first sign of the flu in preseason workouts, McKenzie said he didn't hesitate.
"We've had one or two catch a bug and when that happens I sit them out completely," he said. "I mean, no games, no practices, nothing. It can spread too fast, and I don't want the team to catch it. I don't want to catch it. I've got a 1-year old at home."
Ellis recommended exercising basic sanitary practices to fight the flu, including frequent handwashing and avoiding sharing drinks with teammates. Using separate water bottles or disposable cups from a cooler also help prevent the spread of any illnesses, Ellis said.
"That's a must. During flu season, you can't be sharing water bottles," he said. "It's an easy thing for a basketball team to do."
The flu hasn't hit the basketball teams at Evans High School and athletic director Kevin Kenny said the few basic steps the school's athletes have taken have helped prevent it. The girls basketball team started using individual water bottles this season, and Kenny said he'd like to implement the practice with other teams.
"(The bottles have) your number on it. That's your number and your water bottle and nobody drinks out of it but you," Kenny said. "For years everybody's just used those PowerAde bottles and they're passed around even from the JV game to the varsity game, but the way the flu is now it's one more thing you've got to think about. You don't want to go into January with half your team out with the flu."
Ellis said there's an even better way to avoid the flu, and it's one Augusta State athletes have fully adopted. This year the practice of offering flu vaccinations has returned to the men's and women's basketball teams. Augusta State offered two flu shots for all of its student-athletes this year: the regular flu shot and the H1N1 flu shot. John "Doc" Sullivan, the 22nd-year assistant athletic director who heads up the sports medicine program, said most of the student-athletes took up the offer.
He said basketball players receiving flu shots was a common practice during Clint Bryant's tenure as head coach from 1988-97. Eventually, the men's basketball program got away from taking flu shots. And Sullivan didn't push for the student-athletes to receive them for two reasons: college-age adults don't fall in the need category for flu shots and he didn't want to take them away from someone else who really needed a flu shot.
This year, H1N1 changed things. Student-athletes in the 18-22 age group were requested to take a flu shot because they're being targeted by this virus.
"It became recommended," Sullivan said, "because there were problems with people in this age group, which is unusual."
Sullivan said student-athletes receive a handbook which lists basic items to help them avoid getting sick like: Don't go out with a wet head and wash your hands multiple times throughout the day.
In recent years, hand cleaning wipes were added to the training room inside Christenberry Fieldhouse. Soon after, they became available in the weight room. Now, there are hand sanitizer dispensers throughout the building.
"That's something that people have taken to," Sullivan said. "It's easy and fairly effective."
Reach Billy Byler or Chris Gay at (706) 724-0851.