CDC outlines flu precautions for colleges and universities

In response to the growing concern regarding the spread of H1N1 influenza (swine flu) worldwide, federal government agencies are reaching out to large organizations to assist them with their preparations.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) posted information today (May 1) specific to institutions of higher education as they make plans to prepare for any cases of H1N1 flu among their student and employee populations -- and also inform them of preventative measures to avoid contracting the virus.

According to the CDC higher education alert, symptoms for H1N1 flu have included fever, headache, upper respiratory tract symptoms (cough, sore throat, runny nose), muscle aches, fatigue, vomiting and/or diarrhea. "Illnesses among persons infected with H1N1 flu virus have mostly been treated at home, but some cases have been hospitalized and deaths have been reported," according to the alert.

The CDC notification also stated, "Most people will not have immunity to this new virus and, as it continues to spread, more cases are expected in the coming days and weeks."

The CDC's goals regarding H1N1 flu "are to reduce transmission and illness severity, and provide information to help health care providers, public health officials and the public address the challenges posed by the new virus. The World Health Organization (WHO) has raised the worldwide pandemic alert level. In response to these developments, CDC is recommending that states, communities, institutions and individuals assess their emergency response plans and capacities."

The CDC recommends that post-secondary institutions of higher education do the following:

-- Review plans for responding to a public health emergency and make sure they are up to date.

Penn State has worked on and maintained an updated pandemic plan for a number of years; it can found online at http://www.sa.psu.edu/uhs/Penn%20State%20Pandemic%20Plan.pdf.

-- Know local/state plans for institutions of higher education in the event of a mild or severe disease outbreak. This information may be available from state or local health authorities (http://www.pandemicflu.gov/plan/states/index.html).

Since initial word of the outbreak, Penn State officials have been meeting regularly with local and regional emergency management officials, hospital representatives, public health officials and other community leaders to effectively coordinate regional response to any outbreak.

Pennsylvania government Web sites offering information include http://www.readypa.org/potentialemergencies/influenzapandemic/ and http://www.pandemicflu.state.pa.us/.

-- Ask your campus health center to develop and implement a system to track and report (to the local health department) influenza-like illness (an illness with at least fever and sore throat or cough) among students.

Penn State is already a sentinel site for the Pennsylvania Department of Health and is continually in contact with state health officials to notify them of any growing or unusual health concerns.

Updated information from Penn State's University Health Services and Penn State Live can be found online at http://live.psu.edu/tag/swine_flu.

-- Individuals with influenza-like-illness should consult their physician and the institution should consult with their local or state health department for recommendations on identifying persons with H1N1 flu and ways to prevent spread of this virus.

Individuals who are experiencing flu-like symptoms should make an appointment with their health care provider. For students at University Park, UHS appointments can be scheduled online at www.sa.psu.edu/uhs or by calling (814) 863-0774. Students at campuses should contact the health center at their Penn State location.

-- Promote everyday preventive actions for students and staff:

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
  • Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.
  • Avoid close contact with sick people.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • If you experience influenza-like illness symptoms, stay home from work or school except to seek medical care, and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.

-- Monitor the postings on the CDC web site and that of your local and state health departments and follow local health department advice about possible closure of colleges and universities.

The CDC H1N1 Web site is at http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/; the Pennsylvania Department of Health H1N1 flu information can be found online at http://www.dsf.health.state.pa.us/health/cwp/view.asp?q=252990.

-- Contact your local public health department if you have questions or suspected cases.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health's toll-free number is (877) PA-HEALTH.

Contacts: 
Last Updated September 17, 2009