H1N1 Update: Sept. 1, 2009

During the first week of fall classes, University Health Services (UHS) saw a small number of students with “influenza-like illness.” H1N1 tests were sent to the state health department for confirmation; two tests have come back positive. The number of students with flu-like illness is expected to increase in the coming weeks. A number of students, staff and parents have e-mailed UHS over the past weeks with concerns about H1N1. This week’s H1N1 update focuses on some of the most frequently asked questions that UHS has received.

When will the H1N1 flu shot be distributed to students and do you need to be 18 to receive it? The H1N1 vaccine will be distributed by the federal government (Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA) through state health departments. We are working closely with the Pennsylvania Department of Health and expect that there will be a vaccine distribution site at Penn State. No one knows yet when the vaccine will be available, but we expect it will not be before mid-October. We will send out notifications to all eligible individuals as we learn more about vaccine availability. You do not have to be 18 to receive the vaccine. The H1N1 vaccine will be distributed at no charge.

Can you get the swine flu more than once?  No, infection with H1N1 provides immunity so individuals can only get it once. However, there also will be seasonal influenza circulating this fall and it will be virtually impossible to distinguish clinically between the two flu viruses. If you are over 50-years-old, you may well have some natural immunity. There were flu viruses in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s that were closely related to H1N1. So if you were around then, you may have some immunity as a result of exposure to those viruses.

If I get the H1N1 vaccine, do I still need a seasonal flu vaccine? Yes. It is possible to contract both the seasonal flu and H1N1 flu since exposure to one does not give immunity to the other.

My student is planning to study abroad this fall. Will H1N1 be a problem in the country he/she is visiting? We are working closely with the study abroad office and tracking risk in various countries. Up-to-date information is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en/index.html online.

If I get sick and I’m unable to attend class, will my class attendance record be affected? UHS has asked that faculty respond to ill students as they would with any other illness and provide the opportunity to make up missed work/exams. We also have asked that faculty adjust attendance requirements as needed for students with H1N1 and seasonal influenza. Some faculty may provide online options, but that will not be required. With H1N1, the period of illness during which the student will be unable to attend class is usually less than a week. Please also see faculty senate policy 42-27 at http://senate.psu.edu/policies/42-00.html online.

I have heard that anti-viral medicine is supposed to reduce public contamination. If I’m sick, will I be treated with an anti-viral medication? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has provided guidelines for the use of antiviral medication and we will be following those guidelines. Medication is recommended for some individuals, but not for all. Therefore, we will need to speak to students and/or see them in order to provide medication, unless the CDC recommendations change, which we think is unlikely.

What will the procedures for students with symptoms be? We urge all students who are ill and have questions or want to be seen to call our nurse advice line in advance at (814) 863-4463. We will be providing guidelines to students about who should come in for an evaluation to the health center.

Will students be expected to travel while possibly being sick and contagious (use buses, be in public places and so on), as a policy? What would be a good way to explain this advice to them especially if they do not have a caregiver available to them back home? We will be advising students to return home for their convalescence, but they will need to return via private car only. Individuals ill with H1N1 should not use public transportation.

My class has a field trip requirement. What happens if I get the flu before or during the trip? Sick students should not go on field trips. If a student gets sick while on the trip, he/she should stay approximately six feet from others, if possible, and wear a mask to prevent the spread of infection while traveling with others and/or sharing sleeping accommodations. As with other missed classwork, faculty are encouraged to provide reasonable opportunities for students to make up class assignments or, in the case of field trips, to complete an alternate assignment.

For more information on Penn State’s preparation for H1N1 this fall, visit http://www.flu.psu.edu/.
Additional information about H1N1 influenza is available at http://www.cdc.gov/swineflu/general_info.htm.
Download UHS’ Prepare for Flu Season flyer at http://www.sa.psu.edu/uhs/pdf/prepare_for_flu.pdf.

Last Updated September 01, 2009