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Health Service letter to the community about the H1N1 flu virus, September 30 2009

September 30, 2009

Dear Members of the Vassar College Community,

I am writing to follow up on earlier communications regarding Vassar’s preparations to limit the spread of the H1N1 “swine flu” virus on campus.  Please also remember to use the college's Health Service website for related information, and to stay current on steps the college is taking (http://healthservice.vassar.edu).

Outbreaks of this most recent strain of flu virus have now occurred at many colleges and universities throughout the country, and it is currently the predominant flu virus in circulation.  The highest number of confirmed H1N1 cases have been among younger people, making students who live in a college environment more susceptible to infection. For the most part, the strength of the illness has been relatively mild, with the majority of people making a full recovery, but your caution and preparation are still extremely important.

Bear in mind, for example, that the Health Service has been holding weekly seasonal flu immunization clinics each Wednesday at Baldwin House from 1:00-4:00 p.m., and many students have already pre-registered.  Because of this high demand, an all-day Seasonal Flu Immunization Clinic will also be held on Monday, October 5, 10:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m. in the College Center multipurpose room.  It is recommended that people with an underlying health condition get their seasonal flu vaccination early this year.

Currently the H1N1 vaccine is scheduled for distribution at the end of October.  This new vaccine is being prepared in the same way as the seasonal flu vaccine and will be made available to all Vassar students when it is released.  In addition, people with medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, immunosuppression or other longer-term illnesses will receive priority for immunization with the H1N1 vaccine. If you have any questions or need further information please contact your health care provider or make an appointment at Baldwin to talk to our clinical staff.  

There's also an important update from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the New York State Department of Health.  They have amended some of their earlier recommendations for people experiencing flu symptoms.  The major change is for how long a person should stay out of circulation, in order to have time to recover from the flu and to protect others from exposure to the illness.  The advice is now that any person experiencing a flu-like illness should stay home and avoid contact with others until at least 24 hours after they are free of fever (100 F or 37.8 C) WITHOUT the use of fever reducing medications such as Tylenol or Advil.

For most students this change means staying out of class and the library, not attending social gatherings or activities, and not going to a cafeteria for a total of four to five days on average. Some students may choose to go home to recover from a flu-like illness if they live within a reasonable distance from campus, or have relatives or friends to pick them up by private transport.  Others may choose to recuperate in their own single dorm room and arrange for a “flu-buddy” to assist them with their meals, which can be picked up from ACDC.  The college is also providing additional single “respite rooms” on campus, for sick students to use until they are ready to resume normal activity.

Although the Vassar College Health Service has provided care and facilitated isolation for a small number of students with flu symptoms, it's important to note that both the symptoms being observed on campus and the number of students requiring care has been no different than what the college typically sees during this time of year.

As far as our day to day health practices are concerned, the CDC, New York State Department of Health, and Vassar urge you to continue following these preventative and preparatory steps:

  • Wash your hands regularly, particularly after touching public surfaces.
  • Don’t share food or drink with other people.
  • Drink plenty of clear fluids (water, juice, etc.).
  • Maintain your own supply of over-the-counter medications and fluids for the flu, so that you’re prepared if you start to feel sick.

If you are experiencing flu symptoms such as high fever above 100.0F, muscular aches and body pains, cough or sore throat, report to the Health Service right away to determine whether you have the illness.  If you do have the flu, minimize contact with others until you’ve been symptom-free for 24 hours.  As I said earlier in this letter, you should be symptom-free without the assistance of fever reducing medication.

The college's H1N1 task force continues to meet regularly and monitor the local, state, national and international context.  The task force will continue to keep the campus community informed as new information becomes available or should any additional precautionary steps be warranted. Members of the task force include myself and Vassar colleagues Tom Allen, Alexander Averin, Sylvia Balderrama, Marianne Begemann, DB Brown, Kathy Bush, Susan DeKrey, Luis Inoa, Jim Kelly, Maureen King, Don Marsala, Chris Roellke, Ruth Spencer, Joshua Chason, as well as student Brian Farkas '10.

Dr. Irena Balawajder
Director of Health Services