2009-2010

Flu Update

WPI has been monitoring the H1N1 pandemic closely since last spring. We will continue to provide the campus with timely information on the pandemic on this web site and through other communications. This site provides information about how WPI will manage the flu situation in the coming months, and guidelines for good health and virus containment.

All members of the community are encouraged to visit this web site – which is linked from WPI Health Services and from Human Resources - for the latest information information, or to contact WPI Health Services with any questions or concerns. They can be reached at x5520 or healthcenter@wpi.edu.

Overview

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) define H1N1 flu as a respiratory disease caused by type A influenza viruses that is contagious and is spread from person to person. It is clear from organizations as varied as World Health Organization and the City of Worcester's Division of Public Health that the spread of H1N1 will almost certainly continue, and perhaps at a high rate. However, reports from the CDC indicate that the impact of the virus may not be as threatening as it once appeared. New state and federal policies mandate that, unless individuals are considered high risk (people in this category include children, pregnant women, new mothers, adults 65 years or older, HIV-infected individuals, and people who have chronic health conditions, etc.), they will not be tested for H1N1. Instead, most people with a fever of more than 100 degrees and a cough or sore throat will be diagnosed as having influenza-like illness (ILI). This is an important distinction because it indicates that the severity of H1N1 is on par with that of seasonal flu.

With that said, the flu is not an illness to take lightly. It is likely that this year's flu season will be pronounced. There is a very good chance that we could see an emergence of the influenza virus during the coming fall and winter seasons. Therefore WPI remains vigilant and is working to help keep our students, faculty, and staff stay safe and healthy through proper prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. The university is following the guidance of the CDC, the Department of Public Health (DPH), and the Boston Public Health Commission for management of influenza and ILI.

Vaccination Information

The CDC is recommending that all people receive the seasonal flu vaccine earlier than most years; those who are considered high risk are being encouraged to get the vaccine as early as this month. (If you are high risk, please contact your primary care physician for a consult.) For everyone else the timing is less urgent; WPI is making arrangements for an on-campus clinic in early October so that students, faculty, and staff will have easy access to the vaccine. We are awaiting a shipment from the Department of Public Health and will announce a date for the clinic as soon as we possibly can, as well as cost information.

At present the H1N1 vaccine is undergoing clinical trials and is not yet available; medical experts are estimating that the vaccine will be available to targeted groups of high risk individuals— which in this scenario includes pregnant women, household and caregiver contacts of children younger than 6 months of age, health care workers, emergency medical services personnel, children from 6 months to 18 years, persons age 19-24 and people aged 25-64 who have preexisting medical issues—in either November or December of this year. We are keeping close tabs on the CDCs recommendations for this vaccine, and if appropriate, WPI will bring an H1N1 vaccine clinic to campus, too.

Prevention

WPI would also like to share the CDC's tips for helping to reduce germ spread and the risk of infection, and asks all members of the campus community to engage these tactics.

  1. Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  2. Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hands cleaners are also effective.
  3. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.
  4. Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
  5. Influenza is thought to spread mainly person-to-person through coughing or sneezing of infected people.
  6. If you get sick, CDC recommends that you stay home from work or school and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.

Earlier in the year it was common practice to cancel events and close schools because of reported cases. However, the management of this outbreak has been constantly evolving. Going forward into the fall and winter months, WPI will take our guidance from the DPH regarding cancellations and closings. We are asking that students, faculty, and staff afflicted with H1N1 or ILI to contact Health Services by phone at 508-831-5520 or email at healthcenter@wpi.edu to report their illness so that we can track the attack rate here on campus and take appropriate next steps. We will provide alerts and notification pertaining to changes or interruptions in WPI's academic programs, daily operations, residential and campus life, and scheduled activities as soon as possible. Students who are unable to return home during a shutdown should consider a backup plan in the event the university must be evacuated on short notice.

Symptoms

WPI is encouraging people who are experiencing ILI symptoms (fever of more than 100 degrees coupled with a cough or sore throat) to stay home and also contact their health care providers—or the WPI Health Services—by phone at 508-831-5520 at the onset of symptoms; it is important to call rather than visit because it could serve as a preventative measure for uninfected individuals.

Patients should also communicate directly with their health care providers if they have questions and concerns about their illness, or if they are experiencing more severe symptoms such as;

  • shortness of breath
  • pain or pressure in the chest
  • sudden dizziness
  • confusion
  • severe or persistent vomiting
  • runny or stuffy nose
  • chills
  • body aches
  • fatigue
  • diarrhea

Student Treatment

Students should contact their health care providers -- or the WPI Health Center – by phone at the onset of H1N1 or ILI symptoms; it is important to call rather than visit because it could serve as a preventative measure for uninfected individuals.  Students should also communicate directly with their health care providers if they have questions and concerns about their illness, or if they are experiencing more severe symptoms such as shortness of breath, pain or pressure in the chest, sudden dizziness, confusion or severe or persistent vomiting.

Students who are sick with H1N1 or ILI should self isolate at the onset of symptoms and should not report to classes, labs or public events until a full 24 hours after their fever passes (without the aid of fever-reducing medication).  The Academic Affairs office is working with academic departments and faculty to permit students to make up missed work wherever possible. 

Afflicted students who wish to go home for isolation must arrange for private transportation home; no one with symptoms should ride on public transportation because there is a likelihood of further spreading the disease. WPI has arranged for the care and feeding of students who either need or wish to stay on campus.  In the event of a shutdown, students who are unable to return home should consider a backup plan in the event the university must be evacuated on short notice.

Employee Treatment

Employees should contact their health care providers by phone at the onset of symptoms; it is important to call rather than visit because it could serve as a preventative measure for uninfected individuals.  Patients should also communicate directly with their health care providers if they have questions and concerns about their illness, or if they are experiencing more severe symptoms such as shortness of breath, pain or pressure in the chest, sudden dizziness, confusion or severe or persistent vomiting.

WPI is not requiring doctor's notes for employees' extended leaves due to ILI.  Employees who do not have enough paid sick time to cover their absence, will be encouraged to use available vacation time, personal time, or may borrow against next year's sick time.  (See the target="_self">Human Resources webpage for more information.) 

Supervisor and Faculty Responsibility

Professors will ask students exhibiting ILI symptoms to leave class and follow isolation guidelines. Similarly, supervisors will ask employees exhibiting ILI symptoms to leave work.

Links to other Flu Health Information

 

September 1, 2009

 
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