Feeling sick? Stay home!
WCC also braces for H1N1 by offering vaccines
ILLUSTRATION BYKATE BIZER
Schools begin to prepare as the H1N1 (swine flu) virus makes its way north through the United States, causing fear and angst for many in Michigan this flu season.
The virus, first seen in April of this year in North America, is expected to take its toll on the northern states just in time for the regular flu season, beginning in early October, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site.
Unlike the seasonal influenza virus, the H1N1 virus appears to have the greatest effect on people under 25 years old, while 90 percent of those who have died from the seasonal flu are over 64. This factor means a new, greater risk for college students, a group previously considered to have one of the lowest risks for flu hospitalization or death, warns Roger Palay, vice president of Instruction.
Washtenaw Community College is taking the upcoming flu season head-on, preparing the college, its students and employees for what is predicted to be a bad one.
“We’re taking our cues from authorities,” Palay said. “And they’re saying at this point to plan on it being a bad flu season, but not an epidemic.”
And epidemic is what many fear after the CDC labeled it one earlier this year.
Initial lab results showed that the H1N1 virus had many similarities with the type of influenza that infects pigs in North America, thus mislabeling it the “swine flu.” But as with many new viruses, with time more information is gathered about the different parts of the virus, as well as its effects, according to the CDC.
Now, officials believe that with proper medical care and early detection of the virus, H1N1 will be, for many, just a really bad flu, and a great deal of the people infected have recovered without any medical treatment, the CDC said.
With many of the same symptoms as the seasonal influenza, the H1N1 virus often causes a sore throat, stuffy nose, fevers and aches. All of these symptoms often found curable by the universal “sick-person” treatment. This typically involves plenty of fluids, vitamins and both physical and mental rest.
But those who are experiencing severe symptoms such as chest pains, sudden dizziness, confusion or extreme vomiting should see treatment immediately, the CDC warns. Here, students and employees are asked to take precaution while on campus. Hand sanitizer stations will be installed in many of the classrooms by the end of the month and everyone is encouraged to use them.
“We want to get the word out to everyone,” Palay said. “Whether it be staff or students, it’s very important not to put your fingers, or anything that’s touched something that could be contaminated near your mouth, eyes or nose. But you don’t think about it. You can pick up the infection that (easily).”
“Washing your hands and coughing into your elbow instead of your hand is important,” said Gloria Velarde, the WCC nursing department chair.
The CDC agrees, telling people to wash their hands frequently, avoid crowds and close contact—and get both the seasonal influenza shot and the H1N1 vaccine.
WCC will administer the regular flu shot to employees at the end of September and is anticipating a great deal of the vaccine to be available to students as well for a small fee, about $10. That’s an incredible price, according to Palay, considering many places charge $25 or more for the same vaccine.
The vaccinations on WCC’s campus are expected to take place in the Campus Safety and Security office on the second floor of the Student Center building.
WCC will also provide the H1N1 vaccine about the third week of October.
The H1N1 vaccine has been declared an emergency vaccine and may therefore be administered by those trained but have not yet received certification. This could give some WCC nursing students the opportunity to perform a service while learning the skills required in their careers. Details remain uncertain, however, Palay said.
“We have to find out what our limitations are (for H1N1),” he said. “I would expect that we can give that first come, first serve.”
But for both faculty and students, the easiest way to catch the flu is by being around people who have it. So for those who have the flu, either seasonal or the H1N1 virus, whether symptoms are mild or severe, the college says to stay away from campus.
“We’re trying to encourage people not to spread it,” President Larry Whitworth said. “So if you have it, or you think you have it, stay home.
“We’re not as vulnerable as some colleges that literally have thousands of people staying in the same building night and day. There are no dorm rooms. We have a different environment.”
The goal is to limit contact between those who are sick and those who are not.
“People need to talk to their instructors about what the expectation is if they are sick,” Palay said.
Although WCC administrators cannot force instructors to wave an attendance policy for those experiencing a confirmed case of either the seasonal influenza virus or H1N1, they can ask. A letter was recently sent from Palay’s office to WCC instructors asking them to “be appreciative and understanding of the fact that people can get sick.”
“We, as administrators, don’t have the authority to tell faculty you must let your students stay home,” Whitworth said. “We really have to simply encourage.”
But with the technology involved in most WCC courses this fall, keeping up with the syllabus shouldn’t be difficult for anyone. Palay suggests teachers make sure they have the e-mail addresses for all their students. In case the class is cancelled for a day or two because of a health issue, it would be wise to communicate with students some other way.
“Given the technology that we have, it shouldn’t be an issue for faculty to stay in touch with students,” Whitworth said.
But the best way to avoid missing class, and the flu, is to stay healthy, stay hydrated, eat well, boost anti-oxidant consumption and get the vaccines. Follow these guidelines and the 2009 influenza season should be just another flu season.