Representatives from the Greene County Health Department and the Northeast Tennessee Regional Health Office were on the Tusculum College campus in September to inform staff and faculty about the H1N1 virus and answer questions regarding the pandemic that has hit college campuses nationwide.
“After participating in the countywide planning session a few weeks ago, we decided to take it a step further and bring this information to our staff and faculty to help them better prepare should H1N1 become an issue for us on campus,” said Tusculum President Nancy B. Moody.
Jamie Swift, director of communicable diseases for the Northeast Tennessee Regional Health Office presented an overview of pandemics, highlighting others such as the 1918 Spanish Flu that spread worldwide.
“On June 11, a pandemic was declared with H1N1 by the World Health Organization, based on its worldwide spread, not on its severity,” said Swift, adding that H1N1’s severity rates about a two on a one-to-five scale.
The virus, marked by fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headaches, chills, fatigue and often diarrhea and vomiting, has resulted in eight deaths to date in Tennessee. Swift told the group that the high-risk categories for H1N1 include pregnant women, infants and children, health care workers and young adults, such as those on a college campus. Those over 65 years of age are the least affected category and may have developed some immunity due to a pandemic virus from the 1940s. However, she added, for the most part, the H1N1 flu “seems to be a little milder than season flu.”
Swift recommended that if staff and faculty encounter students with the potential symptoms of H1N1 flu they should encourage them to see the campus nurse as quickly as possible.
Rebecca English of the Greene County Health Department talked to the group about preventative measures, including some steps such as installing hand sanitization stations across the campus, which Tusculum College has already done. Other tips like covering a cough and avoiding eye, nose and mouth touching were also suggested.
Key to prevention is good hand hygiene and social isolation for those who are diagnosed with the flu. She added that to date, there have been no cases confirmed of seasonal flu, so all current cases of flu are highly likely to be the H1N1 strain.
English also recommended that everyone get a seasonal flu shot, and the College has dates in place, including one last Thursday, for students, staff and faculty to receive seasonal flu vaccinations on campus. In addition, it is hoped that an H1N1 vaccine will be available in October, and English also recommended getting that vaccination. Clinics will be held at the Greene County Health Department when those vaccinations become available and will be offered free-of-charge; however, high-risk groups will have the opportunity to receive the vaccination before those who are not in the high-risk groups.
She also recommended social isolation for those who are diagnosed with the flu, encouraging professors and supervisors to work with their students and employees who are diagnosed with the flu and enable them to stay at home until they have gone a minimum of 24-hours after their fever has subsided without the use of medications.
According to Mark Stokes, director of facilities management at the College and chairman of the campus Health and Safety Committee, the College has an H1N1 plan in place and will continue to coordinate with the health department and other agencies to be prepared should the number of cases in the area dramatically increase.
“We are doing what we can on the preventative side,” said Stokes, citing the addition of the hand sanitizer stations and information sessions to educate students, faculty and staff on what they can do to stay healthy. He added, that the College is prepared and has a plan in place should the number of cases of flu reach higher levels.
“We are doing what we can to assure the continuity of instruction and to maintain essential operations should further steps need to be taken, and we are working closely with the dean of students, the college nurse and the Athletic Training Department as the front line of defense,” said Stokes.
English commended College officials on their preparation and their participation in the countywide efforts and encouraged everyone to stay aware of current information by staying in touch with local agencies and monitoring reports from the Center for Disease Control.
“Prepare for the worse, hope for the best,” said English.