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The H1N1 Flu (Swine Flu) Outbreak
December 4, 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 Thursday, Dec. 4, we have experienced 234 cases of influenza among students on the Troy campus. One student has an active case of the illness, and is now recuperating at home. The remaining 233 students are fully recovered. In addition, we continue to receive reports of small numbers of faculty and staff with influenza-like illnesses.

As we prepare for the weekend's celebrations in honor of the ten-year anniversary of The Rensselaer Plan, remember that infection spreads most easily at large social gatherings, and continue to practice excellent hygiene during the festivities.

Some important new information is included in this week's update. Please read carefully.

Though the overall number of H1N1 cases is trending downwards, the CDC is predicting a second major outbreak of the illness as we move into the spring. Such secondary waves of infection have already been seen in the southern hemisphere. We are in no way out of the woods in regards to this illness, and need to remain vigilant.

Many of you emailed after our most recent H1N1 clinic asking how to receive a vaccination. We finally have good news in that we will be receiving 500 additional doses early next week. We will plan to hold our next H1N1 vaccination clinic in the Great Hall of the Darrin Communications Center (DCC) next Thursday, Dec. 10, from 10 am to 4 pm. This clinic will be open to all Rensselaer students, faculty, and staff.

I have also been getting many questions and hearing rumors about the possible side effects of this vaccine. Many say they are too worried to receive the vaccine. To date, after millions of administered doses, the 2009 H1N1 vaccine has had fewer side effects than even the exceptionally-safe seasonal influenza vaccine and we have seen no major side effects after administering more than 1,000 doses here at Rensselaer.

I understand that there are individuals who are using the Internet to frighten people about the vaccine. I would implore each of you to look at the vaccine's safety data scientifically, as we are apt to do here at Rensselaer. If you do, you will find that to date this is statistically one of the safest and most effective vaccines ever produced. Most importantly, the vaccine is vastly safer than having the H1N1 influenza itself, as there have been hundreds of deaths in people under 24 years of age so far this year, including another college student just last week.

In addition, the upcoming winter break gatherings leave all those who are not vaccinated very vulnerable to infection. Vaccination now will give you complete immunity from the illness over the break and into the spring when another outbreak is expected. The communities on college campuses remain at heightened risk from this illness. This vaccination is a personal choice, but it is also the best way to ensure that no one on this campus becomes severely ill and to protect yourself and your family from an infection.

As always, our best protections against the flu include:

  • Vaccination with the 2009 H1N1 vaccine;
  • 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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