University communities are particularly vulnerable this fall to the spread of influenza, both seasonal and novel H1N1.
"Between Aug. 24 and Aug. 28 the University Health Services (UHS) clinic had a total of 112 patients presenting with influenza-like illness," said Sherry Bell, senior program coordinator. "Not all patients with influenza-like illness are confirmed as flu, but it's worth noting when you consider that UHS saw no patients with this illness during the same week in 2008."
These numbers reflect only students seen at UHS. UHS does not have numbers for faculty and staff, for students who have sought healthcare off campus, or for those who did not seek healthcare for influenza-like illness.
Bell said university clinics nationwide are seeing the same trend.
"It's just what happens when you have a lot of people gathered in the same space during an outbreak," she said.
UHS and members of the Campus Safety and Security Committee began a public awareness campaign promoting flu prevention this week to help mitigate spread of the disease on campus. The campaign includes three basic messages:
1) practice good hygiene (for example, frequently wash or sanitize your hands and cover your cough/sneeze),
2) stay home and don't attend classes or work if you have flu symptoms, and
3) get the seasonal and H1N1 flu vaccines when they become available.
"These messages are all over campus, including the bathrooms, computer labs and residence halls," said Bob Harkins, associate vice president for campus safety and security. "In addition to the promotions, Facilities Services and Housing and Food Service have been aggressive with their cleaning programs to try and assure the most sanitary environment possible for our community."
Staff Council is also helping the effort. The group will sponsor an Influenza Forum on Sept. 24, 2-3:30 p.m. at the Avaya Auditorium in the ACES Building. The forum will feature representatives from UHS, Human Resource Services and Campus Safety and Security.
The UHS seasonal flu vaccine campaign for students, faculty and staff begins Oct. 6. The schedule is available on the UHS Web site. UHS has submitted a request for the H1N1 vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) projects this to be available in mid-October. It is unknown at this time, however, when and how much of the H1N1 vaccine will be available for our students, faculty and staff.
At this time, the CDC is not recommending school closures for confirmed H1N1 influenza cases. The university plans to follow these guidelines unless the number of persons affected by flu makes it impractical to maintain university classes and operations. The CDC recommends that universities consult with their state and local health officials if a large number of cases of influenza-like illness occur in their communities.
"We will be consulting with local health authorities throughout the flu season," Harkins said.
Flu season updates and more information about what the university is doing to prevent flu can be found on the emergency Web site.
Visit the Provost's Office Web site for information about class absences due to influenza-related illness.