Feeling the flu? Stay home!

H1N1 Virus, false-coloured. - CDC, Public Health Image Library
H1N1 Virus, false-coloured. - CDC, Public Health Image Library

Alex Solak – The Aquinian

The annual flu season is approaching and St. Thomas University has taken steps to help protect itself against a major swine flu outbreak.

Swine flu, or ‘pandemic H1N1 2009 influenza’ as the World Health Organization officially calls it, is a new version of the flu virus that has only recently been seen in humans.   Since H1N1 made the jump to our species earlier this year, it has killed over 2,800 people including 74 in Canada.  While comparable to the annual influenza virus, scientists are concerned this new strain will mutate into a more virulent or lethal form.

St. Thomas University began preparing for a possible outbreak this summer  by organizing a pandemic planning committee.  The committee, which includes members of local health services, the UNB student Health Centre, and  Residence Life  at St. Thomas, has been working on a plan for both universities  to limit the spread and severity of any outbreaks.

“We’ve been working closely with health services and public health authorities,”  said Ryan Sullivan, director of Residence Life and a member of the committee. “It’s designed to be as flexible as possible depending on how severe second and third waves of H1N1 are in this community.”

The threat of exposure to students living in residence is particularly high.  The close quarters could mean an increased rate of spread once it enters the community.

As students moved in this September, they were given information sheets on how to protect themselves from the virus – the beginning of what is supposed to be an extensive awareness campaign.  Residence advisors were also briefed on the virus as part of their training.

All of the information recommends four basic steps to reduce the risk of getting the flu:

  • Wash your hands regulary and properly.  Use warm soapy water and scrub for at least 20 seconds. Use hand-sanitizer when you can’t wash your hands.  It will help, but isn’t as effective as a good scrub.
  • Cough or sneeze into your sleeve.  This limits the spread of the virus in the air, and will help you from transferring it through touch.
  • Don’t share your things.  Don’t share your cell phones, dishes, drinks, etc.
  • Keep things clean. Make sure workplaces, computers, and even door knobs are cleaned often with regular cleaning products.

If you do start to feel flu-like symptoms, the Public Health Agency of Canada suggests that you isolate yourself from others.  It is recommended that students and staff not come to school if they are feeling sick.

The pandemic planning committee has been in contact with the faculty, and asked that they be lenient with attendance in cases where a student becomes ill.

If  residence students develop flu-like symptoms, they are being instructed to leave the residence system and go home if at all possible.

“Residence students should be informing us either through their RAs or by emailing us,” Sullivan said. “We’ll be asking them if they can get home by private vehicle.  If they’re not able to do that we’ll work with them to make them as comfortable as possible.”

Using of public transit, like the bus system, is also discouraged to prevent transmission of the flu to others.

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