Help your student prepare for flu season

July 16, 2009

University Park, Pa. -- Before your student heads off to college this fall, please discuss this important health information.
 
Novel H1N1 (swine flu) is a new strain of flu virus that is currently prevalent in the United States, including central Pennsylvania. Even the University Park campus is not immune from this illness and has reported its first confirmed cases.
 
Although H1N1 is a new influenza virus strain, the symptoms closely resemble those of seasonal flu and include:
-- fever and cough and/or sore throat
-- runny nose
-- body aches
-- headaches
-- chills
-- occasionally accompanied by vomiting and diarrhea.

Anyone who develops these symptoms should contact a healthcare provider, who will determine whether influenza testing or treatment with an antiviral medication is needed. Penn State students at University Park can schedule an appointment at University Health Services (UHS) online at http://www.sa.psu.edu/uhs/basics/online_access.cfm or by calling (814) 863-0774.
 
As with seasonal flu, most people who get novel H1N1 recover completely with minimal, if any, medical intervention. Students should rest, drink plenty of fluids, and use pain and fever reducers such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen, as directed, to manage body aches and fevers.

People with flu-like symptoms should isolate themselves from others to avoid spreading the infection. It is strongly recommended that any student who is ill with the flu remain in his/her dorm room or apartment, away from others, until he/she is no longer infectious. This means staying home from classes and work until 7 days after the onset of symptoms or 24 hours after symptoms resolve, WHICHEVER IS LONGER.
 
Students are encouraged to get the seasonal flu vaccine through their hometown health care provider or at one of the flu clinics held at UHS each fall. Parents can receive information about these and other events by signing up for the Parent and Family Healthline at http://www.sa.psu.edu/uhs/news/famline.cfm.

If a vaccine becomes available for H1N1, students are encouraged to get this vaccine in addition to the seasonal flu vaccine.
 
As parents, you'll quickly recognize that the practices considered prevention basics are things you've told your student all of their lives. During flu season, these practices can help your student avoid illness and stay on track academically.

-- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it. If tissues are not available, cough or sneeze into the crook of your arm or shoulder.
-- Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.
-- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
-- Do not share utensils, drinks, cigarettes or personal care items.
-- Try to avoid close contact with sick people.

Students who have been in contact with someone diagnosed with novel H1N1 and do NOT have symptoms do NOT need to be seen by a healthcare provider. Testing will not be helpful in these situations.

The EXCEPTION is anyone who has a chronic medical condition, such as asthma, diabetes, cystic fibrosis, immunocompromised condition, cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, etc. These conditions could increase the risk for developing complications from the flu. These individuals should contact a healthcare provider as soon as possible if they have been exposed to someone with novel H1N1 for further recommendations and possible evaluation.
 
Students who have been exposed to someone with flu-like symptoms and develop symptoms themselves, especially students with chronic medical conditions, should contact their health care provider for an appointment as quickly as possible, preferably within 48 hours. Over-the-counter and prescription antiviral medications may be effective in reducing flu symptoms.
 
Finally, prepare a cold and flu kit for your student to take back to campus. The kit should contain these self-care items:
-- a thermometer
-- acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil)
-- cough syrup
-- a supply of fluids such as bottled water, sports drinks and soups
-- hand sanitizer
-- boxes of tissues
 
For additional information, consult these resources:

Centers for Disease Control
http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/qa.htm
http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/guidance_homecare.htm

Penn State Live
http://live.psu.edu/tag/H1N1

 

Last Updated September 17, 2009