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1-800-808-1987

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The H1N1 Flu (Swine Flu) Outbreak
October 9, 2009: To the Rensselaer Community
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From: Leslie Lawrence, M.D.
Medical Director, Student Health Center, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

H1N1 Update

As of October 8, we have experienced 21 cases of influenza among our students on the Troy campus. Currently, we have our largest number of sick students at one time, with 14 students with active cases of the illness. Seven are in isolation rooms and seven are recuperating at home with their families. In addition, there have been reports of several faculty and staff with influenza-like illness.

Our caseload is still low, but it is steadily growing. It is important to note that we have linked several of the cases to specific social events on campus, such as football games and weekend parties. Please, especially during such events, remember to continue to wash your hands, avoid close contact with others, and NEVER share cups or utensils. Remember, you can get the flu from someone who does not yet appear to be ill.

Unfortunately, some of our current cases were apparently contracted during a weekend drinking game. Do not share drinks. Alcohol does not kill the virus or prevent its spread from person to person. While it might seem fun over the weekend, it will not be enjoyable when you and your friends are sick and missing class or midterm examinations.

Our ability to control the spread of the flu is up to you. There are students, faculty, and staff on this campus with real and serious health issues that could put them at severe risk of complications should they become ill with the flu. Please continue to practice good hygiene, keep your rooms and bathrooms clean, and avoid class or social activities if you are sick.

We continue to strongly recommend that any ill student should either go home for care if possible or move temporarily to an isolation room. I have heard that some students do not want to come to the Health Center because they do not want to go to an isolation room. Isolation is the best possible way to prevent the spread of the virus and is, in my opinion, one of the reasons that we have been able to slow the spread of the illness as compared with many other universities. It is also the best way to keep track of our students’ health. Most cases remain mild, but at least two of our students have had varying levels of unforeseen complications that we have been able to quickly address because of our regular contact with them. Our isolation rooms are brand-new single rooms with full-sized beds, their own bathrooms, and food service right to the door. Bringing laptops, books, homework and other things is encouraged. In addition, being in isolation is also important information for students’ professors to verify the reason they are unable to attend class.

There was a strong response to our seasonal flu vaccination clinics, so much so that we are currently out of seasonal flu vaccines. More are expected soon, but likely not until the H1N1 vaccines are distributed. But, please be aware that the seasonal flu is not currently circulating in the United States. H1N1 is the main flu spreading in this area and across the U.S.

We still expect H1N1 vaccinations in the next week or two weeks. I will be in touch with additional information as soon as possible.

As always, your best protections against the flu include:

  • Washing your hands often, especially after shaking hands with others (hand disinfectants may be used if there is no access to soap and water);
  • Avoiding close contact with people who are sick;
  • Covering your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing;
  • Covering your mouth and nose with the inside of your elbow if you do not have a tissue;
  • Not touching your eyes, nose, or mouth, especially after contact with others; and
  • Keeping a three-foot [one-meter] distance between yourself and anyone who is ill.

Please take care.

Leslie Lawrence, M.D.
Medical Director, Student Health Center, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

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