From: Leslie Lawrence, M.D., Medical Director
Re: H1N1 Flu
As the fall 2009 semester begins, it is important that students, faculty, and staff have the latest information on H1N1 influenza, also called swine flu, and its prevention.
Since the last time I communicated with the Rensselaer community, the World Health Organization (WHO) has raised the pandemic alert level to Phase 6. Please note, however, that the WHO pandemic alert level refers to how widespread this virus is, but does not reflect the virulence of the disease. The severity of H1N1, to date, has remained similar to that of the seasonal flu.
The first part of our plan, as with any influenza plan, is prevention. This includes reminding ourselves to adhere to the following practices:
- Wash your hands often, especially after shaking hands with others (hand disinfectants may be used if there is no access to soap and water);
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick;
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing;
- Cover your mouth and nose with the inside of your elbow if you do not have a tissue;
- Do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth, especially after contact with others.
Another critical part of prevention is to ask students, faculty, and staff to stay home and away from others should they develop flu-like symptoms (i.e., fever (100° F [37.8°C] or higher, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, fatigue, and rarely diarrhea and vomiting). The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is now recommending that people with these symptoms stay home for the entire period that the fever persists, and for 24 hours after the fever has stopped. Only after the 24 hours of no fever without the aid of fever reducers should someone return to class or work. You can find more information on influenza prevention and suggested plans for schools at http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/guidance/guidelines_colleges.htm.
Certain groups are considered at greater risk of developing severe complications if they contract H1N1. Those high-risk groups include: pregnant women and those with respiratory disease (asthma, emphysema, or chronic bronchitis), heart disease, diabetes, renal disease, morbid obesity, or compromised immune systems. Students who develop a respiratory illness with a fever, and are in one of these high-risk groups for severe complications from H1N1, should contact the Student Health Center at (518) 276-6287 to schedule an appointment. An appointment with the health center is free for all Rensselaer students.
Faculty and staff are encouraged to contact their personal healthcare providers. Please make it clear when calling that you are in a high-risk group for influenza complications.
The most effective prevention tool against any influenza strain is an effective vaccination. However, as you probably have heard in the news, there will be a limited supply of vaccine against H1N1, and this will not be available until late October at best. This limited supply will first be distributed to high-risk groups, healthcare workers, pregnant women, and children. However, if a supply becomes available to the Rensselaer community, we will notify you immediately and begin distribution per Health Department guidelines.
Since late last spring, Rensselaer’s Emergency Operations Committee has rewritten the Campus Pandemic Influenza Plan to make it more flexible in meeting a variety of possible influenza severities. What H1N1 has taught us is that no influenza outbreak is the same, and we must be as prepared as possible for a variety of circumstances. Our influenza plan establishes a phased response to an outbreak of influenza. The first phase in our plan is to prepare for an outbreak, the second is to prevent the spread of the illness, and the third, if necessary, will be to reduce campus activities if the risk level to the campus community increases. This risk level is based on two factors: the number of people who are getting sick (incidence) and the severity rate (how many people are having complications from the strain of influenza). Currently, Rensselaer’s operations will continue as normal based on these two risk factors and the severity of the virus. We will continue to monitor the recommendations of the CDC closely, and adapt our plan for Rensselaer as those guidelines evolve.
I will update you as additional information becomes available. I wish everyone a happy and healthy start to the new semester.
Leslie Lawrence, M.D.
Rensselaer Student Health Center