Friday, September 18, 2009

Flu U: Keeping campuses safe from H1N1 influenza

Heading back to college means more this fall than sorority rush, new roommates and visits to the campus bookstore. The threat of H1N1 flu — also called swine flu — has added a new concern for students, administrators and parents alike — and it’s one that’s potentially worse than a final exam.

To help colleges prepare for the H1N1 flu virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released recommendations for colleges and universities.

For college students, protecting yourself starts with good hygiene and prevention. Wash your hands often (PDF), cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze, and avoid people who are sick. A new vaccine will also soon be available to help protect against H1N1 flu. Be sure to get your shot when the vaccine is available. (But CDC and other public health professionals remind you to make sure to get your seasonal flu vaccine too.)

If the virus does begin to infect people on campus, students and faculty should stick to a policy of “self-isolation.” That means students who show symptoms of H1N1 flu should stay out of contact with others and remain in their rooms until they are free of fever for 24 hours without use of medication. While this may be difficult for the overly social bunch on campus, it will help prevent the virus from spreading. Isolated students won’t be attending class, so CDC has encouraged colleges to adopt new absentee policies to enable students to remain in their rooms when they are sick.

CDC also recommends students adopt a “flu buddy” system, which essentially means people who have symptoms should help care for and check in with each other throughout the day. University staff should call, text or e-mail isolated students to check on them each day.

If handwashing and self-isolation are not enough and the spread of flu worsens, schools may take more drastic measures such as cutting down on campus-run social events and using online education as an alternative to class time.

Protect yourself on campus this fall. Follow the tips to stay healthy and you’ll be receiving that diploma before you can say “ah-choo!”

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