U prepares for H1N1 in flu season

By By Katie Valentine

By Katie Valentine

Flu season is beginning, and with two strains floating around, the U is preparing to deal with potentially more student absences than in past years.

The H1N1 flu virus, also known as swine flu, already went through once in the spring. There were at least five cases reported at the U, and it could come back stronger than before. But U emergency planners don’t want any infections to create a scare.

“Everyone needs to relax and calm down,” said Mark Pfitzner, director of student health services.

Students need to let their professors know they will be missing class as soon as flu symptoms start, Pfitzner said. But more consequential than that is if a professor falls ill.

“Extended absence on the part of key faculty can disrupt a semester for many students,” said Mike Ditolla, program director of the Center for Emergency Programs. “It’s important to have a plan B.”

Professors are expected to schedule and work with students for each situation, said Les Chatelain, special assistant to the vice president, who coordinates with the U Center for Emergency Programs.

Chatelain is in charge of the emergency response information for the campus. He has advised faculty on how to approach the flu season. Professors will also need to have backup plans for classes if they’re sick by planning class work on WebCT or asking another professor to step in and temporarily teach the class. About 95 percent of the chemistry department’s faculty has coordinated to cover each other’s labs in the event that a professor gets sick, because hands-on learning is more difficult to make up than a lecture, Chatelain said.

Each department will be different as far as how it will respond to sick faculty, Chatelain said.

Planning and precautions for the H1N1 virus started last semester, he said.
The U canceled summer study abroad trips to Mexico. Students have already received an e-mail this semester encouraging them to prevent spreading the disease.

Prevention and treatment

The U is starting a health campaign to promote good habits that will combat catching the virus. The key points of the campaign include encouraging students to wash their hands, wipe off surfaces such as a keyboard or desk and not coming to class if they’re ill.
Students should be proactive to prevent spreading the illness, Pfitzner said. Getting a flu shot early will help students’ bodies fight off the seasonal flu. Seasonal flu shots are available for $15 for students at the Student Health Service building. An insurance co-pay isn’t required for the shot. Student Heath Services is hoping to receive funding from ASUU to help provide some flu shots for free. But the H1N1 vaccine won’t be ready until later this semester.

The winter months are the peak times to get the virus and the novel H1N1 virus.
“Not everyone with the swine flu has to see a doctor unless there are concerning signs,” such as troubled breathing, pain in the chest or abdomen, sudden dizzy spells, confusion, severe or persistent vomiting, Pfitzner said.

Students with a mild case should stay home for 24 hours or until they get better, he said.
The highest-risk age group for the H1N1 virus is 6 months to 24 years. When the novel H1N1 flu vaccine comes out, that group will be vaccinated first. The people expected to have the most severe cases are those 5 to 18 years old with underlying illnesses. Anyone older than 55 should already have antibodies to the flu from a similar strain in the 1970s.
Michael McFall contributed to this story.