by Pamela Young, Published September 03, 2009
YPSILANTI — With more than 22,000 students returning to campus after Labor Day, Eastern Michigan University's health professionals have launched a comprehensive H1N1 prevention initiative to minimize risks caused by both the seasonal flu and the H1N1 virus.
EMU's initiatives include providing up-to-date information to faculty, staff, students and parents; contingency planning for continuity of operations in the event of an outbreak; lessons in proper hand washing; offering informational meetings for students and employees; and distributing more than 2,500 bottles of hand sanitizer.
Provost and Executive Vice President Jack Kay said, "We are committed to keeping the University healthy and informed, and to working with students, faculty, and staff to minimize the disruption to academics while maximizing the health and safety of our campus and the community."
While it is hoped that planned preventive measures will avert widespread absences, the impact of faculty and students needing to miss class is being carefully examined, Kay said. The provost is consulting with Academic Affairs' leadership to coordinate contingency policies and processes, and to create a framework for continuity under different pandemic scenarios.
Eastern Michigan expects more than 6,000 participants, including first-time students and their families, to participate in EMU's orientation, Sept. 5–8. First-time students will receive a small bottle of hand sanitizer when they arrive on campus, along with a flyer that provides tips for staying healthy. Health professionals will be on site to answer any questions.
Ellen Gold, executive director of University Health Services, said, "We are preparing a coordinated H1N1 plan to support a healthy campus environment. The most effective approach combines both prevention and educational efforts."
"Good hand hygiene is a simple, but effective way to keep healthy or to prevent the flu from spreading," said Gold. "That means washing hands often with soap and water, especially after coughing or sneezing. We've reinforced that message by posting flyers in the restrooms that demonstrate the proper method for washing hands. We also have placed hand-sanitizing dispensers throughout campus."
EMU's health center also will provide an immunization clinic on Move-In Day, so incoming freshmen can receive any needed vaccinations, such as meningitis, Tdap (tetanus-diptheria-acellular pertussis) or seasonal flu.
Other preventative measures include:
Chills, a cough or sore throat, along with a fever, are important symptoms that could signal the onset of seasonal flu or H1N1, said Gold. Other symptoms include a runny nose, body aches, headache, tiredness, diarrhea or vomiting.
The main way flu spreads from person to person is through droplets, so it's important to cover one's mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, said Gold. She advises persons to cough or sneeze into an elbow or shoulder, not the hand, if a tissue isn't available.
"If someone experiences flu-like symptoms, they should stay home until they don't have a fever for 24 hours," Gold said. "We'll work with students who live on campus, so they can be isolated from those who are well."
Young people, ages 24 years or younger, or those people, ages 25-64 with a chronic health condition such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease or a compromised immune system, are at high risk for the H1N1 illness, according to The Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Although the CDC estimates there are more than 17 million college students and more than 3 million people who work as faculty and staff, the precise impact of the virus on campuses and elsewhere is unknown at this time, according to Gold.
"Not only is prevention critical, but being able to accurately assess information and coordinate response to an outbreak also is very important", said Mark Wesley, EMU's emergency management director. "We are working closely with state and county emergency response agencies to make sure that we are able to quickly monitor flu conditions, make decisions about what actions to take and communicate the information to our campus community."