As the world braces itself for an H1N1 flu pandemic that could infect up to 30 per cent of the population, and with Washington State University and University of Kansas already reporting outbreaks, in addition to a 20-year-old Cornell student dying on Friday, UTM officials maintain that the campus is in particularly good shape.
Preparations have been underway throughout the summer. They ranged from the simple and preventative—such as adding hand sanitizing stations, which now total over 100, and instructing the caretaking team at UTM to increase the frequency with which it sanitizes washrooms, food service areas and common gathering places—to planning ahead for a scenario in which up to a third of faculty and staff could end up sick.
In an interview with The Medium, Dean of Student Affairs Mark Overton said that U of T is heavily invested in pandemic planning. Working with the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, and with Peel Public Health in the case of UTM, university officials developed a strategy with an emphasis on prevention. So far, the strategy involves displaying tips in the Zoom frames hanging in the campus washrooms, forming Health Education teams to promote flu awareness, informing residence students and adding a notice in Blackboard (U of Ts coursework portal). They have also set up a page dedicated to student information on the Pandemic Preparedness website.
Hand washing is the best way to prevent spread of H1N1 flu. Matthew Filipowich/The Medium
UTM Vice-President and Principal Ian Orchard followed with an email informing UTM students about the H1N1 strain. And last Thursday, the University released a flu-registry system, accessible through ROSI, U of Ts student web service, which allows students to record flu-related absences without the need to submit doctors notes to their professors.
Skipping class—or, in the case of staff, work—is encouraged by both Public Health Canada and the University. A memorandum was recently sent to U of T principals, deans, academic directors and chairs instructing them to make reasonable accommodations for students who are unable to attend classes or complete academic requirements due to suspected or actual H1N1 illnesses.
The rule of thumb for returning to class, said Alison Burnett, director of the Health and Counselling Centre, is 24 hours after the fever has subsided—without any medication. Lots of times people take Tylenol to reduce fever. Thats not the same as the fever subsiding on its own.
A visit to the doctor becomes necessary if the fever continues after the first 24 hours or if flu symptoms worsen. Patients might then be given an antiviral drug such as Tamiflu.
Unlike in the UK, where these antiviral drugs have been given to everyone, here in Canada, they will be given only to people suspected of actually having the swine flu, said Burnett. Those with a regular flu will just have to ride it out. If youre at a higher risk, then its more likely you will be given the drug.
The prevention aspect has also been stressed in UTMs student residence. An additional 25 hand sanitizing stations have been added and an information package has been prepared for residence students.
Were in a better position than many other universities, said Dale Mullings, director of Student Housing and Residence Life, because they have doubles or triples, whereas all of our rooms are single rooms.
Students who get the H1N1 virus will not be asked to change rooms. Well ask them to stay where they are and to self-identify through a self-registry, said Mullings. Patients will be assigned flu buddies who will take class notes and bring packaged meals to the patients rooms. Plenty of tissues and hand sanitizer will be on hand and surgical masks will be provided should a patient need to leave their units, for example to drop the garbage.
Its self-isolation, said Overton, and about how we support that while making the student comfortable.
And should the University close due to a pandemic that sees a significant percentage of the campus population fall sick, the residence will remain open. So if youre unable to go home, you will always have a place to stay here, said Mullings.
The University encourages students and staff to get the regular flu shot in October then the flu clinic opens, as well as a second shot later in November or December when the H1N1 vaccine is finally released. Initial reports have indicated that the H1N1 vaccine will require two shots, but scientists now state that one will suffice. Children, however, may still need two.
Practice Good Hygiene
• When you cough or sneeze, cover yuor nose and mouth with a tissue or your sleeve.
• Wash your hands often and thoroughly with soap and water.
• Carry and use alcohal-based hand sanitizer regularly.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with your hands to reduce your exposure to germs on your fingers.
• When the flu is known to be spreading, maintain a social distance of atl east one metre from others where possible and avoid sharing personal items and drinks.
• Avoid close contact with people who are ill.
• If you have flu like symptons (fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue, sometimes with diarrhea and vomiting) stay home and self-isolate until you`ve been free of fever for 24 hours and are feeling better. Call TeleHealth Ontario at 1-866-797-0000 or your doctor if you have complications or further concerns.