University takes range of steps to prevent spread of flu on campus

In preparation for the new academic year, University officials have taken a full range of steps to prevent the spread of flu on campus and to ensure that students, faculty and staff are aware of the guidelines for handling influenza, including the H1N1 (swine) flu virus that has sickened people worldwide.

A University task force including administrators in health, safety, campus life, facilities, academic affairs and human resources began convening in the spring and met throughout the summer to develop a comprehensive approach for addressing H1N1 flu, focusing on the importance of self-isolation for those who become ill.

The task force has established detailed protocols -- both for student life administrators and faculty contending with student academic and social considerations, and also for supervisors and employees anticipating absences due to illness and other workplace issues -- to help prevent the spread of flu on campus and to care for members of the University community who may eventually become ill with flu.

"It's essential for members of our campus community to work with us to limit the spread of flu as much as possible," said John Kolligian, executive director of University Health Services. "We want to ensure that students, faculty and staff have a healthy, productive and enjoyable academic year, and there are steps that we all can take to keep ourselves and others from getting sick."

University Health Services and the Office of Environmental Health and Safety have sent e-mails to students and employees detailing the guidelines for what individuals should do if they become ill with flu or flu-like illness. The University also continues to update its H1N1 Web page with detailed guidance and information about the University's preparedness efforts.

The University's guidelines are aimed at reducing all incidences of flu, including seasonal flu and the novel H1N1 flu virus that was first detected in people in the United States in April 2009. At this time there is no immediate impact on University events or activities, but University officials say that flu guidelines may change, depending upon the nature of the H1N1 flu virus and recommendations from health authorities to manage the spread of flu.

Key elements in the University's information campaign are fliers, posters, table tents, various fact sheets and Web pages encouraging all members of the campus community to recognize the signs of flu, which include fever with cough and/or sore throat. Students are being instructed to call University Health Services if they become ill, while employees are being instructed to call their personal physicians at the first signs of flu-like symptoms.

The University's protocols call for individuals with flu or flu-like illness to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guideline to self-isolate during illness and for at least 24 hours after fever is gone, except to get medical care. The CDC notes that fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine in order for an individual to cease self-isolation. Self-isolation instructions include avoiding contact with others and staying at home or in a dorm room until no longer contagious.

Students with flu are instructed not to attend class or other campus activities, and employees with flu have been instructed to stay home from work in order to reduce the spread of illness to others. University officials have asked all individuals who become ill to inform anyone with whom they have had close contact about their illness.  

Ill students who live within driving distance of the University may be asked to self-isolate at home, while students who remain on campus will self-isolate in their dorm rooms. Members of UHS staff plan to remotely monitor the health of students in self-isolation in their dorm rooms. Undergraduate and graduate students have been provided with contact information for residential and academic administrators who can assist students in self-isolation with housing, dining and academic issues.

The University also is taking special care to prevent the spread of illness to students with pre-existing medical conditions in recognition that these individuals may be at greater risk for complications from flu. Students with pre-existing conditions, which include individuals with immunosuppression or chronic medical conditions such as asthma or diabetes, have been instructed to immediately call UHS if they develop flu-like symptoms or have been exposed to someone with flu. Protocols also have been developed to provide temporary housing arrangements for students with pre-existing medical conditions should their roommates become ill with flu.

To help reduce the spread of influenza in administrative and other work environments on campus, the Office of Human Resources has developed various protocols designed to ensure that employees do not hesitate to take time off when they are sick. Employees with questions about flu and absence policies due to illness have been encouraged to read new flu guidelines on the human resources Web page.

In addition, University health officials continue to remind students, faculty and staff to practice good hygiene as one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of illness.

All members of the University community also are strongly encouraged to prevent the spread of seasonal influenza by getting a free vaccination for seasonal flu at the University's annual Flu Fest clinic on Sept. 23-24 and Oct. 12 in the Frist Campus Center. The clinic provides vaccinations for seasonal flu only, but the University has informed students, faculty and staff that more information about a vaccine for the H1N1 flu virus will be provided when it becomes available.

The University will update members of the University community with new information via the H1N1 Web page and other campus communications. Campus medical and environmental health staff continue to respond to direction provided by the CDC, and are maintaining communications with local and state public health officials in New Jersey.