Franklin & Marshall College’s plans for containing the H1N1 flu virus, also known as swine flu, are beginning to unfold as the first few influenza cases trickle into Appel Health Services.
The College counted nine reported cases of the flu as of Sept. 2. Each case has been clinically diagnosed as the flu and is being treated under protocols developed by College officials to cope with the illness, says Kent Trachte, dean of the College.
Swine flu first appeared in the spring. The symptoms are similar to regular seasonal flu, but like all flu strains, H1N1 poses additional risks to people who have pre-existing conditions, such as asthma. H1N1 differs in its higher prevelance among young people.
For now, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, expect H1N1 to be no worse than the typical seasonal flu, though it is likely to affect more people and hit earlier in the season.
“If it remains that way, even if we have a relatively large number of people with flu-like symptoms, we will be able to manage,” Trachte says.
F&M developed its protocols for handling H1N1 according to guidelines issued by the CDC. The College aims to strike a balance between checking the spread of the illness and minimizing disruption to academic life.
One key for the College will be regular communication with students, parents, faculty and staff. The College will not issue daily bulletins on the number of infections, but it will send out notifications of major developments, such as when a vaccine becomes available in October. The Web site (www.fandm.edu/swineflu) is the repository for the most important and timely information.
“When people don’t have information, that’s when they tend to get anxious,” Trachte says. “That’s why we worked hard to put our protocols together, get them out to students, parents and other constituents, and add even more details to the Web site.”
F&M students who develop flu-like symptoms, but are otherwise healthy, are advised to report by phone to Appel Health Services. They are then asked to go home, if feasible, or stay in their rooms for three to five days, which is the illness’ typical course. Roommates are being advised to relocate for the duration of the illness.
If a student with an underlying health condition contracts the illness, he or she should go directly to Appel.
To ensure a coordinated response, Health Services will ask permission to notify faculty, parents, the dean’s office and College House prefects. College House staff, after being issued masks, will deliver meals to sick students to decrease the likelihood of spreading the flu in dining halls.
In addition to treating those who become ill, staff members at Appel are reminding everyone to take simple preventive measures, such as washing hands, using hand sanitizer when washing is not possible, coughing or sneezing into a tissue and then disposing of it promptly, or coughing into your elbow or shoulder if no tissues are available.
“My biggest concern currently is that we successfully contain the spread of the virus,” says. Marianne Kelly, M.D., director of Health Services.
More significant measures, such as suspending classes temporarily, might be necessary if H1N1 takes a more serious turn. That is why College officials continue to meet on a regular basis to discuss preparations.
“We don’t want to be caught by surprise,” Trachte says. “We are continuing to develop our contingency plans.”