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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Preparation for H1N1 underway

<rleton officials are working on an H1N1 prevention response plan, amid thirteen reported flu cases on campus that were likely caused by the pandemic strain. H1N1 contributed to the death of a Cornell University student last week, but most symptoms remain mild.

Pandemic flu is especially troublesome on college campuses due to their high-density living arrangements, the weekend social scene and shared dining, bathing and learning spaces.

The Minnesota Department of Health predicts a 30 to 50 percent infection rate for the entire state.

“With pandemics, the only thing that’s certain is uncertainty,” said Natalee Johnson, Coordinator of Medical Services in the Wellness Center.

The thirteen suspected cases of H1N1 are not the first for Carleton this year. Johnson said a July flu outbreak during Carleton’s summer writing program was likely H1N1.

Johnson has been the point person in the Wellness Center on H1N1 and led the SWA training sessions about the flu this summer. She has also been in touch with St. Olaf’s medical center, which has had a comparable number of sick students.

“[H1N1] has been taken very seriously,” she added.

Carleton is waiting to hear from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to when H1N1 vaccines will arrive. Johnson urges students to participate in “community mitigation” efforts. These include frequently washing hands, coughing and sneezing into your sleeve and most importantly, to stay in your room if feeling flu symptoms.

SWAs and Resident Assistants have been trained to identify the key symptoms of H1N1, like high fever (over 100 degrees), sore throat, runny nose and aches, and have been given prevention kits that include thermometers and hand sanitizers for their residence halls. They stress healthy habits as the best way to prevent getting sick, though.

“[We are] emphasizing cleanliness,” said Annie Mark ’12, a SWA in Burton, who encouraged students to wash their hands after sneezing and before they eat.

But, healthy habits can be difficult for college students, especially when the weekend rolls around.

“Don’t share drinks, don’t share cups,” Mark continued.

“Especially at parties, really try, if you get a red cup, to not share it with other people. Try to cut down on swapping of spit.”

Johnson admits that preventive measures can only do so much. Influenza usually lasts for one week, but is still a highly contagious illness, which has raised concerns about the roommates of sick students.

According to Director of Residential Life Steve Wisener, the College has 40 vacant rooms available this term for medical purposes.

“We are offering the move to the healthy roommate if they would like that option,” Wisener said in an e-mail earlier this week.

Students who live within 250 miles are encouraged to return home where they can receive better care.

In a campus-wide e-mail sent last week, Dean of Students Hudlin Wagner announced the steps students with influenza-like symptoms should take, starting with a call to the Wellness Center (x4080) for a phone triage, which will offer medical information and support.

If the student is found to have an influenza-like illness, he or she then fills out a flu report form.

According to Wisener, the information is sent to the Wellness Center, the Dean of Students office and Res Life. The Dean notifies faculty if a student will miss classes and the student’s Hall Director notifies RAs that their resident is sick.

Martha Paas, an economics professor said that faculty are understanding of students who miss class with the flu, but that few professors worry that H1N1 will be a huge issue.

“A lot of us think it is good to be prepared,” she said, “but, so far at least, I don’t think we have a problem.”

She mentioned that professors are willing to record their lectures and post them online if enough students begin to fall ill and miss class.

As far as dorm life is concerned, Wisener said that RAs and Hall Directors occasionally check up on sick students and also help them get some meals while they are recovering in their room.

“The RAs are there for support and to check in on students, but not to be their caretaker,” Wisener said.

“Students are ultimately responsible for taking care of these needs.”

While 98 to 99 percent of people who come down with H1N1 have mild flu symptoms, and students have little reason to worry if they do get ill, it hasn’t been made clear what medical resources and other types of care are available to students living off campus.

The response plan, which Carleton’s Pandemic Preparedness Committee created, is by no means a finished product, and is constantly improving.

In the upcoming days the Wellness Center hopes to bring the same triage online for easier accessibility.

Despite the national news headlines about the Swine Flu, the Wellness Center expressed little concern that H1N1 would threaten to close school.

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