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University News

U. preps for widespread H1N1 cases

By
Senior Staff Writer
Monday, September 7, 2009

The University is taking preemptive measures to control the spread of the H1N1 virus this fall, anticipating a worse-than-average flu season.

Russell Carey, senior vice president for Corporation affairs and governance, and Vice President of Campus Life and Student Services Margaret Klawunn sent an e-mail to the University community Aug. 27 detailing further information about H1N1, commonly referred to as “swine flu,” as well as resources for students, faculty and staff. A separate e-mail by Director of Health Services Edward Wheeler Sept. 4 gave specific instructions on how infected students can avoid spreading the virus.

The H1N1 virus resulted in an international public health scare last spring, amid reports that H1N1 was a new, dangerous strain of the influenza virus. Since then, public health authorities have determined that the symptoms and behavior of the H1N1 flu are similar to that of the seasonal flu. H1N1 poses a higher threat only in that fewer people have been exposed to the virus and developed immunity, and therefore more are likely to be infected, Carey and Klawunn wrote in the e-mail.

The University is encouraging community members to get the regular seasonal flu shot, even though it will not protect against the H1N1 strain, Carey said. He added that the University does not expect to have a shortage of the seasonal flu vaccine.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will distribute vaccines specific to the H1N1 virus to individual states sometime in late September or October, said Margarita Jaramillo, a staffer at the Rhode Island Department of Health. Allotments will be based on state population, Thomas Skinner, senior public affairs officer at the CDC, wrote in an e-mail to The Herald.

The Rhode Island Department of Health will then develop a plan for further distribution, focusing on those groups deemed most at risk, Jaramillo said. She said the state does not yet know how many vaccines it will receive but has identified pregnant women and school children in kindergarten through 12th grade as target groups for vaccination. No special programs have so far been identified by the state for colleges and universities, she said.

The CDC has recently placed those under the age of 24 in one of the top priority groups for vaccination, Carey wrote in the e-mail. But though this includes most college-aged students, “that does not mean that they are necessarily the first priority,” he said.

Any students who catch a fever are advised to remain in their rooms until they have no fever for 24 hours, Wheeler wrote in his e-mail. If febrile students have roommates with whom they are in regular contact, they are advised to wear masks in common areas, to aim any coughs or sneezes into their elbows and to clean their hands often with soap or alcohol-based sanitizer.

The University expanded its existing crisis management structure last spring to include members with public health expertise, Carey said. The University’s H1N1 task force met with the director of the Rhode Island Department of Health in August and continues to meet on a regular basis to monitor updated information from public health authorities.

“The most important thing Brown community members can do to prevent the spread of illness is to practice good hygiene,” wrote Carey and Klawunn in the e-mail.

The University is also encouraging students experiencing flu-like symptoms to delay their arrival on campus.

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