University News

78 report ‘flu-like symptoms’ this month

By
Senior Staff Writer
Friday, September 18, 2009

Correction appended.

Flu-like illness is spreading around campus, with 78 students diagnosed since Sept. 2, according to Health Services Director Ed Wheeler.

Though the University does not have permission from the state of Rhode Island to test students for H1N1, also known as “swine flu,” ten students have been tested in a hospital for the virus, and of those tests, three turned up positive, according to a campus-wide e-mail sent by Vice President for Campus Life and Student Services Margaret Klawunn on Thursday night.

The diagnostic criteria for an influenza-like illness, which may or may not be the H1N1 virus but demands the same treatment, are a fever of 100 degrees or higher and a cough or sore throat, Wheeler said.

“We treat them the same way if they have the symptoms, whether they’ve been tested or not,” said Russell Carey ’91 MA ’06, the senior vice president for Corporation affairs and University governance who also serves as chief risk officer on the Emergency Preparedness and Crisis Committee.

Dean of the College Katherine Bergeron said the University’s fight against swine flu has been a collaborative effort involving the Rhode Island Department of Health, Computer and Information Services, Dining Services, heads of academic departments and professors, among others.

The health department emphasized that the best advice to give someone with flu-like symptoms is to “just stay put and take care of yourself,” Bergeron said.

The 78 students diagnosed were advised to remain in their rooms or to go home until they were symptom-free for 24 hours, Wheeler said. 

Different groups within the University are involved in caring for the students while they are isolated. 

Bergeron and Klawunn sent out a campus-wide e-mail last week detailing an online reporting system that allows students with flu-like symptoms to notify Health Services so that they can be excused from classes and get follow-up care.

“We’re making sure people have what they need to stay isolated,” Klawunn said. Measures taken to ensure that sick students recover and that the disease does not spread include the delivery of food packages by Dining Services to students’ rooms, permission for friends of ill students to bring extra dining hall food to their peers, follow-up calls from Health Services and deans’ notes to faculty excusing students from class when they report symptoms.  

Health Services will soon offer students a free vaccine for the common seasonal flu, according to Wheeler. “We don’t want people to have both illnesses in the same season,” he said.

Eric Stix ’12, who began to experience flu-like symptoms last Friday, spent the weekend at home in Massachusetts. He said it seemed difficult to keep the recommended distance of six feet from his friends in his suite.

“I can’t imagine what it would be like to stay in your room,” he said, adding that he returned to school more cautious on Monday. “When I got back I bleached everything I remembered touching.”

Stix said that his professors were sympathetic and that Health Services was able to fit him in on an already busy day. Health Services also was meticulous about limiting his contact to prevent the spread of the virus, he added. “They make you put on a mask if you show any one of those (flu-like) symptoms, and they have Purell all over the place.”

There are over 100 public locations on campus with hand sanitizer dispensers, Carey said. The dispensers are there for people in crowded locations without immediate access to soap and water to clean their hands, and for “reinforcing the message that hand-washing is one of the most important things people can do to prevent the spread,” he added.

Klawunn said basic hygiene, healthy living habits and staying out of public areas when sick are the most important measures an individual can take to avoid spreading the flu.

The administration started brainstorming preventative measures for H1N1 last year but stepped up the efforts after the World Health Organization declared it a global pandemic in June, Bergeron said. Between college students’ high susceptibility to illness and the H1N1 virus’s ability to spread before symptoms appear, students and faculty alike must exercise caution, she said.

“It can spread before people know they have it,” Stix said. “It’s a smart disease.”

An article in Friday’s paper (“78 Report ‘Flu-Like Symptoms’ this Month,” Sept. 18) incorrectly stated that students were tested for the H1N1 virus at a hospital. In fact, tests were administered at the Rhode Island Department of Health on students who were brought to Health Services at Brown. Students who were brought to a hospital and discharged would not have been tested for the virus.