Federal officials hosted a conference call Friday to outline plans and contingencies regarding the H1N1 virus on college campuses.
United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said the Department of Education is taking the H1N1 threat very seriously and will work to minimize the effect on the educational institutions.
“There are three consistent themes: first, prevention; second, close-monitoring; and third, common sense,” Duncan said.
Duncan also said he is very pleased colleges and universities have already worked in a thoughtful, practical way toward prevention and containment by promoting frequent hand-washing, isolation in housing and avoiding classes when infected.
He added the DOE is working collaboratively with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to strategize the best plans for students and universities.
HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said it is important for students to be informed about H1N1 prevention because they are the group most vulnerable to the virus.
“We know that flus are dangerous year in and year out, and the H1N1 virus is just as or more dangerous than the seasonal flu,” Sebelius said. “Disproportionately, the target population is young Americans under 25, so college students are right at the front of the line.”
Sebelius added a vaccine will be available for students by mid-October and some limited supplies will be available as early as the first week in October. She said one dose of the vaccine should suffice for most students, and immune response is complete 10 days after vaccination.
Sebelius also said it is important for infected students to be moved out of joint-living situations like residence halls and to have meals brought to them so they can avoid cafeterias.
“These are strategies that will keep the flu from spreading, and what we have seen so far on college campuses is that it can still spread pretty quickly,” Sebelius said.
Beth Bell, deputy director for the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the CDC, said the flu season has begun much earlier than normal and nearly all of the cases are H1N1.
According to Bell, H1N1 is present in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., with the highest concentration in the Southeast. She also said 21 states are reporting widespread influenza activity, which is unprecedented.
“We have heard about lots of outbreaks on college campuses,” Bell said. “We think this is partially because older people might have some immunity which protects them from this new H1N1 virus but young people do not.”
Craig Roberts, epidemiologist for University Health Services, said UHS has done a lot of work in the last month on H1N1 and said they are seeing a large influx of people with flu-like symptoms.
Roberts said if someone living in a residence hall is infected with H1N1, the preferred action is for the student to go home and stay isolated until 24 hours after the fever breaks. If a student is unable to go home, he said UW Housing is providing isolation areas for students to make use of while they recuperate.