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Swine flu shot? They're taking a pass.

College students jaywalk, pound energy drinks, forgo sleep -- and sniff at the H1N1 virus.

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 4, 2009

One night inside a George Washington University fraternity, a sky-diving, weight-lifting, energy-drink-swilling group of brothers gathered around a pool table, boasting about how no matter what their college, government and parents might say, they don't need any swine flu vaccine, thanks very much.

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The men of Sigma Phi Epsilon, 30 of whom share 16 bathrooms and 15 bedrooms in a house on 23rd Street NW in Washington, don't buy the idea that their lair is a perfect petri dish for spreading the flu.

They view the virus's threat as a media-concocted sensation. They fend off their parents' -- and even their girlfriends' parents' -- worries, much as they do concerns about any other risky behavior, such as parachuting out of an airplane for an upcoming frat event.

Their mind-set: They'll be fine. Even if they get the bug, they'll still be fine.

"I don't need it," said Sal Marchesano, 21, a senior, as macho laughter ripples across the recreation room, which is adorned with a replica of a human skull and a mostly full bottle of hand sanitizer. "They would have to come here to give me the shot. No. They would have to come to my room. When I'm free."

Although college-age people are among the most susceptible of all age groups for contracting swine flu, that distinction is not scaring most into taking precautions, according to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Nearly seven out of 10 people in the 18-to-29 age group said they did not plan to heed warnings to get vaccinated, the poll found. (About 62 percent of those 30 to 64 and 53 percent of those 65 and older also said they planned to skip the vaccine.)

At the frat house, many brothers said they think of swine flu mainly as fodder for punch lines. Some have taken to taunting one of their members -- who since September has been infected twice with a flulike illness -- with the nickname Fruitfly. (Fruitfly doesn't much care for the moniker.)

The Sigma Phi Epsilon brothers see forgoing the vaccine as no riskier than many of their other behaviors. "I text and call while I am driving," said Marchesano, sitting in the rec room with Matt Stratton, 20, and another fraternity brother, Justin Fiorilli, 20.

Stratton, a junior who said he wants to be a doctor, lives by a classic collegiate dictum -- carpe diem, or seize the day. "There are any number of things I do," he said. "I cross the street when the light's not green. We're talking about going skydiving."

That sense of invincibility might be one reason why, according to the nonprofit Commonwealth Fund, nearly 30 percent of adults 19 to 29 go without health insurance, and more than two-thirds of unintentional deaths among 18- to 22-year-olds involve a motor vehicle accident, according to federal data.

Puzzled experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said they are so concerned about young people's lack of concern about swine flu that they are conducting surveys to tease out the basis for the blasé attitudes. Many young adults' belief in the seriousness of the outbreak is diminished by what they deem hyperbolic media coverage, said Kristine Sheedy, a CDC spokeswoman.


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