FAQ for students about missed class time, flu symptoms and more

September 23, 2009

H1N1 and the seasonal flu

Students who are ill are being asked to stay home from class to recover. Here are some frequently asked questions that should provide students with guidance on how to tell if they have the flu and what to do about making up missed classwork or exams.

Frequently Asked Questions for Students

Q. What steps can I take to stay healthy and keep from spreading the flu?
Here are four important ways faculty, students and staff can stay healthy and keep from getting sick with flu or spreading the flu. They can:

-- Practice good hand hygiene. They should wash their hands often with soap and water, especially after coughing or sneezing. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are
also effective.

-- Practice respiratory etiquette. The main way flu spreads is from person to person in droplets produced by coughs and sneezes, so it’s important that people
cover their mouth and nose with a tissue when they cough or sneeze. If they don’t have a tissue, they should cough or sneeze into their elbow or shoulder,
not their hands.

-- Stay home if they are sick. Stay home or in their place of residence for at least 24 hours after they no long have a fever.

-- Talk to their health care providers about whether they should be vaccinated.

Students, faculty and staff who want protection from the flu can be encouraged to get vaccinated for seasonal flu. Also, anyone who is at higher risk for complications from 2009 H1N1 flu, should consider getting the H1N1 vaccine when it becomes available. People at higher risk for 2009 H1N1 flu complications include pregnant women and people with chronic medical conditions (such as asthma, heart disease, or diabetes). For more information about priority groups for vaccination, visit www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/vaccination/acip.htm.

Q. How can I tell if I have the flu?

To determine if you have contracted the flu, University Health Services has provided a guide, "Do I Have the Flu?" to the symptoms and ailments that most commonly accompany the flu virus. This can be found on the UHS website (http://www.sa.psu.edu/uhs/) in the upper right corner under H1N1.

Q. What happens if I get the flu?

If possible, residential students with flu-like illness whose families live relatively close to the campus should go home to recover. They should return home in a
way that limits contact with others as much as possible — such as travel by private car or taxi. Individuals with H1N1 should not use public transportation. They
should stay away from other people until at least 24 hours after they no longer have a fever (100 degrees Fahrenheit or 38 degrees Celsius). This should
be determined without the use of fever-reducing medications (any medicine that contains ibuprofen or acetaminophen).

Q. What if I am sick but cannot go home?

Where a student can recuperate will vary by campus. At University Park, there is a limited amount of space available where ill students can be housed together so they can recover from the flu. If you live in a private room or apartment on campus, you can recover in these places with support from your apartment-mates or friends.

If there is space available for sick students to self-isolate outside their regular rooms at other campuses, that student will be offered a space. However, if there are no alternative spaces in which sick students may self-isolate, they will return to their rooms to recover.

We have been providing ill students with masks so that they can return to the designated isolation areas or to their rooms. The masks allow those who return to their rooms to still visit the public restrooms in their residence halls. Our medical staff also is suggesting that ill students who are self-isolating in their rooms wear the mask in the presence of any healthy roommates — to lessen that person's exposure as much as possible.

Ill students also should continue to wash their hands at every opportunity, cover their coughs and sneezes, dispose properly of used tissues, wear a mask, avoid crowds, get plenty of fluids and try to rest. You can also follow these basic guidelines provided by University Health Services that can help ease your discomfort and speed your recovery: http://live.psu.edu/story/41494.

Q. What is self-isolation?

Self-isolation is when sick people stay home and away from other people until they no longer have a fever (100 degrees Fahrenheit or 38 degrees Celsius) or signs of a fever (have chills, feel very warm, have flushed appearance, or are sweating). This should be determined without the use of fever-reducing medications. During the period of self-isolation, sick people should limit contact with others and try to maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from people. If close contact cannot be avoided, sick people should wear a surgical mask when they are around other people, if they can tolerate it. During current flu conditions, people who are sick should stay home and away from other people until at least 24 hours after they no longer have a fever or signs of a fever. If flu conditions become more severe, those who are sick should stay at their home or residence hall for at least 7 days, even if symptoms go away sooner. People who are still sick after 7 days should continue to stay home until at least 24 hours after symptoms have gone away.

Q. What about my classes?

Penn State is following public health recommendations that request that ill individuals stay away from school, work and group activities. We strongly urge students with influenza symptoms to follow self-isolation guidelines noted above. Students should not attend class or any public gatherings while ill. Symptomatic students who live in residence halls should leave campus and return home to recover. Usually the illness and isolation period will be about a week.

Faculty have been asked to make every reasonable effort to enable students to complete their courses while recognizing that it is imperative that infected students follow the non-attendance self-isolation guidelines. Your faculty members should have established and announced in your syllabi a reasonable timeline and means through which you can inform them that you are experiencing flu symptoms and will be absent.

If you do not have this contact information, you should send an e-mail to each of your instructors. In this e-mail you should inform your instructors that you are unable to attend class and give an indication of how much class time you expect to miss. Giving your instructors advance notice of your absence is very important since University Health Services does not provide written excuses for you to take to your instructors. E-mail addresses for instructors can be found on the Penn State Directory at http://www.psu.edu/ph/

Under Academic and Administrative Policy E-11, students should be provided with a reasonable opportunity to make up missed work and exams.

Students with the flu do not need to provide a physician's certification of illness. Again, if you are ill you should inform your teachers (but not through personal contact in which there is a risk of exposing others to the virus) as soon as possible. Likewise you also should contact instructors as quickly as possible to arrange to make up missed assignments or exams.

If you have questions about academic policy-related issues, please call the Associate Dean/Chief Academic Officer of your college.

In addition, faculty experiencing flu symptoms should follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention self-isolation guidelines and should NOT be present in their classrooms, labs, studios or offices during their illness.

Q. What should I do if my roommate is sick with the flu?

-- You should limit your contact with your sick roommate and try to maintain a distance of 6 feet from him or her. In addition, arranging the beds so that there is at least 6 feet separation will help keep you healthy. If possible, you may want to stay with friends or family while your roommate recuperates. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tell us that those who share living spaces with individuals ill with H1N1 only have a 20 percent chance of contracting the disease themselves. Use of frequent hand washing and cough and cold etiquette increases the probability one can avoid illness.

-- If close contact cannot be avoided, your sick roommate should wear a surgical mask, if tolerable, when he or she is around you and other people.

-- All roommates should continue to wash their hands at every opportunity.

-- You should frequently clean commonly-touched surfaces, such as doorknobs, light switches, counters, desk tops, TV remotes, microwave or refrigerator handles, and computer keyboards.

-- The ill student should cover coughs and sneezes, dispose properly of used tissues, wear a mask, avoid crowds, get plenty of fluids and try to rest.

Q. How long should a student, faculty member, or staff member with the flu stay at home or in their residence?

Under current flu conditions, anyone with flu-like symptoms should stay home for at least 24 hours after they no longer have a fever (100 degrees Fahrenheit or 38 degrees Celsius) or signs of a fever (have chills, feel very warm, have a flushed appearance, or are sweating). This should be determined without the use of fever-reducing medications (any medicine that contains ibuprofen or acetaminophen). The sick person may decide to stop taking fever-reducing medicines as he or she begins to feel better. This person should continue to monitor his or her temperature until it has been normal for 24 hours.

If flu conditions become more severe, the sick person should stay home or in their residence for 7 days. A person who is still sick after 7 days should stay home until 24 hours after the symptoms have gone away. In addition, this longer period should be used in healthcare settings and may be considered anywhere a high number of people at higher risk for complications from flu may be exposed, such as childcare facilities.

Sick people should stay at home or in their residence, except to go to the health care provider’s office, and they should avoid contact with others. Keeping people with a fever at home may reduce the number of people who get infected with the flu virus. Because high body temperatures are linked with higher amounts of virus, people with a fever may be more contagious.

Q. Should I get a vaccination?

Vaccines will be available this year to protect against seasonal flu. Children 6 months through 18 years of age, people of any age with chronic medical conditions (such as asthma, heart disease, or diabetes), and everyone age 50 and older should be vaccinated against seasonal flu as early as possible.

For information on where and when the seasonal flu vaccine is available to students on the University Park campus, go to http://live.psu.edu/story/41645.

The 2009 H1N1 flu vaccine should be available in the coming months. Certain groups at higher risk for complications from this flu are recommended to get the 2009 H1N1 flu vaccine when it first becomes available. These groups include:

-- pregnant women
-- people who live with and care for children younger than 6 months of age
-- healthcare and emergency medical services personnel,
-- people between the ages of 6 months and 24 years old (this includes most students attending colleges and universities), and
-- people ages 25–64 years of age who have chronic health conditions (such as asthma, heart disease, or diabetes) or compromised immune systems.

For more information on vaccination, consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/vaccination/.

Q. Who is at higher risk for complications from the flu?

Anyone can get the flu (even healthy people) and anyone can have serious problems from the flu. Students, faculty and staff are encouraged to talk with their health care provider to determine if they are at higher risk for flu complications, especially if they have been in close contact with others who are sick with flu or flu-like illness. Some groups are at higher risk for complications from the flu. These include children younger than 5 years of age, pregnant women, people of any age with chronic health conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, and heart disease).
 

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Last Updated September 24, 2009