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University prepares for potential H1N1 outbreak

September 17, 2009

As flu season approaches, threats of H1N1 has professors revising their absence policies in the classroom and campus officials creating plans to offer vaccines to the UW-River Falls campus community.

Although the virus is still somewhat new, UWRF has taken measures to help prevent campus from becoming overwhelmed by the virus during this fall. Both staff and faculty have been working together to ensure that students are both well informed and safe on campus in the upcoming flu season.

H1N1, a virus that spreads from human-to-human contact, was first detected in April 2009. As of June 2009, the World Health Organization (WHO) stated that there is a national pandemic of H1N1 flu underway in the United States, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The symptoms of H1N1 are similar to those of the regular seasonal flu. They include a high fever, headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, runny nose and muscle aches, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health. When the virus was first detected, people who felt that they might have symptoms were warned to see a doctor immediately. Now that more research has been done to test the virus, most hospitals will not even treat the virus with antibiotic; instead doctors recommend staying at home and resting, said Alice Reilly-Myklebust, director of Student Health Services.

If a student is experiencing any of these symptoms, they are to e-mail their professors immediately and not report to class. Students living in the residence halls who come into contact with the flu virus are asked to return home if it is less than four hours away and recover there until they have had 24 fever-free hours without the aid of fever reducing medicine.

“It is for the safety of others in the dorms that students will be asked to go home if they have the virus,” Reilly Myklebust said. “It is also to help those students in hopes that they will have a more comfortable recovery at home instead of staying in the residence halls.”

UWRF Provost Fernando Delgado has been in contact with all staff and faculty to ensure that they are taking the right measures when dealing with this pandemic. His advice to staff included altering policies on missed classes, not requiring a doctor’s note from students and suggesting Web-based learning so that students do not have academic concerns when they are ill.

“I was surprised to find that most teachers did mention H1N1 on the first day of class,” junior Katie Berends said. “It was nice to see that changes would be made in the future if students got the virus.”

One of the best ways to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated. People under the age of 25 are one of the key groups recommended to first receive the vaccine, according to the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

Student Health Services is teaming up with the Pierce County Public Health Department to administer free vaccines to students, staff and faculty on campus. Vaccines will be administered in the Trimbelle Room 231 in the University Center on Wednesday, Nov. 4, and Wednesday, Dec. 5. Students will also be able to receive seasonal flu shots at that time.

“I know that the virus is airborne for only a few seconds at a time but based on what I have learned about it I think it is important to get vaccinated to protect myself,” senior JJ Rivet said.