Two weeks after classes began at Western Carolina University, cases of the flu are still spreading rapidly across campus.
Classes started on Monday, Aug. 24 and WCU’s Health Center had already seen 20 suspected cases of the flu and more than 65 cases at the end of the week on Friday, Aug 28. As of Monday, Sept. 7, 138 cases had been seen.
WCU Officials say they likely have H1N1, commonly known as the Swine flu.
“Ninety percent of flu in the state is H1N1 so I assume that is what is here as well,” said Pam Buchanan, director of University Health Services.
She said that while the flu cases hit earlier than she expected, she is not surprised to see students showing up at the health center with symptoms of the H1N1 flu. Buchanan said she expects the university will continue to see more flu cases.
“I think this is the front of the wave,” she said.
Universities were warned earlier this month by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) there would likely be a number of flu cases on their campuses. To prepare early, Western Carolina handed out packets containing a thermometer, tissues, and hand sanitizing towelettes when students arrived last week.
Since students have already fallen ill on campus, WCU is following the CDC’s guidelines for controlling a mass outbreak, according to Buchanan.
“We are asking students who are diagnosed with the flu or flu-like symptoms to return home if possible. Diagnosed students who are unable to travel home are advised to self-isolate in their residence hall or apartment rooms for at least five days after the diagnosis or 24 hours after their fever subsides without the use of fever-reducing medicine,” said Buchanan. “Those students will also be given surgical masks by health center personnel, and will be encouraged to wear those masks when near other people on campus, including roommates and people in common areas such as shared bathrooms.
“We also have placed hand sanitizer at locations all around campus and have sent e-mails and hung posters about how students can help prevent getting and spreading the flu.”
When students miss class because they feel ill or are suspected of having H1N1, WCU Provost Kyle Carter said a plan is in place.
“The Campus Health Center is sending my office daily updates that identifies students who have been diagnosed. In turn, my office is notifying faculty when students in their class have the flu,” said Carter. “Consistent with current university policy on attendance, students are not to be penalized for their absence. In addition, faculty should help them obtain the information they have missed.”
If a class on campus reaches a certain point of diagnosed students, that class will likely be closed to avoid a further spread of H1N1.
“If 25 – 50% of students in a class fall ill, it will likely be recommended that the class be closed until it is safe again,” said Buchanan.
Thus far, Western Carolina has not closed any classes. They also have not canceled any athletic events, concerts, lectures, performances or other large gatherings, but are coming up with plans on what to do if more students come down with the flu, according to WCU senior news director Bill Studenc.
“There are discussions about how to deal with some events as we go forward, but at this point there are not enough suspected flu cases,” said Studenc.
There is no federal guideline yet if there is a mass outbreak on campus. But, WCU is considering options. Western Carolina will be allotted a vaccination supply for the cases of H1N1 when it’s available.
The following is a letter that was sent out to the WCU Community that provides a reminder of the prevention steps everyone in the campus community can take, as well as provide updates on other steps being taken by the University Health Center and the Flu Team.
(The Western Carolinian will continue to follow this story as news breaks.)
Letter from WCU Student Affairs:
Dear WCU Community,
For starters, we want to reiterate the precautionary measures that each of us can use to help prevent the spread of the flu virus. Frequent hand washing and covering your mouth to cough or sneeze are measures that are effective. Please remember that the most common symptoms of flu are fever greater than 100.0°, muscle ache and coughing. Employees with these symptoms should stay home and contact their primary health care provider. Students with these symptoms should be referred to Health Services.
Patients that are seen in the health center with either flu or flu like illness are:
· Asked to wear a mask, provided in the health center, during the visit to the health center.
· Recommended for self isolation for at least 5 days or 24 hours after fever subsides, if possible the recommendation is for the student to recover at home
· Asked to wear the mask received in the health center when near other people on campus, including roommates or people in common areas
· Asked to work with a friend or roommate to help arrange for your needs, such as food while you are recuperating in your room.
· Get plenty of rest and fluids
The CDC has issued recommendations to health care providers related to diagnosis and treatment of H1N1 Flu. In the state of NC, 90% of confirmed flu cases are H1N1, and the recommendation is that confirmation by testing isn’t necessary. Therefore, patients that have flu or flu like illness are assumed to have H1N1 flu. The flu remains a relatively mild strain.
Hand sanitizer dispenser were already installed in all residence hall bathrooms, but additional units are being installed in common areas. Similar dispensers are on order for the Dining Hall. In the meantime, the Flu Team encourages all students, faculty and staff to continue providing for your own personal hand sanitizers.
Many students may be concerned about missing classes for a period of time due to their illness. Health Services will provide a list of students seen the prior day with symptoms requiring self-isolation to the Office of the Provost on a daily basis to assist with class excuses. Faculty members will receive notification from that office related to specific students. If there are any questions, please contact the Office of the Provost at 7495.
The Flu Team will continue to monitor the number of flu cases on our campus very closely and will provide updates and instructions as needed to the campus community. The Flu Outbreak Information Website continues to be updated as new information becomes available and includes links to the CDC H1N1 flu website:
Director of Health Services
H. Samuel Miller
Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs