Coughing fits, fever and class absences announced the arrival of flu season several weeks ago and are still rampant on campus. As the influenza and H1N1, or swine flu, viruses circulate nationally, an increased urgency to stay well permeates the ACU community.
Registered nurse Marsha Smith, an ACU Medical Clinic employee, said the university needs to work as a team to quell the spread of virus on campus.
The university contributed by asking Physical Resources to install hand sanitizer dispensers in various high-traffic locations around campus, including residence halls and Moody Coliseum.
“I think they’re doing a very good job in being preventative, trying to keep people from getting the flu,” Smith said.
But disease prevention begins with basic hygiene, and only the individual can be responsible for that, Smith said. Hand sanitizer helps, but it is not a substitute for soap and water. People should make every effort to wash their hands before and after eating and after using the bathroom. Sneezing or coughing into an elbow instead of a hand can prevent the spread of germs. Items in public places, such as phones, keyboards or door handles, are likely to be contaminated and should be treated with care.
Life in a residence hall can become a challenge during flu season, especially when dealing with the highly contagious swine flu.
“Of course, influenza is spread most easily in crowded conditions,” Smith said. “And there does seem, statistically, to be a higher proportion of people 24 and younger that have gotten this influenza as compared to seasonal influenza.”
For those already sick, the goal is to shield others from illness, said Patti Bull, infection prevention coordinator at Hendrick Medical Center. Flu shots, while instrumental in preventing individual infection, also serve a community purpose. Bull said those who refuse to get flu shots and contract the illness could spread the virus to the young or elderly, who have weaker immune systems.
Smith advises ill students to stay at home and out of class. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend avoiding contact with others until the patient is fever-free for at least 24 hours – without the aid of fever-reducing medications.
Dr. Ellen Little, Medical Clinic physician, said recovery can last for several days, even after patients start “feeling better.”
“You’re probably actually contagious for over a week,” Little said. “We’re telling people you have to stay out of class until you stop having fever for 24 hours, but even after that, as long as you keep coughing, you’re still infectious.”
Smith said students do not need to stress about the disease, as long as they proceed carefully.
“I think as long as they’re aware of what they need to do to keep from getting the flu, it’s not something that they should be worried about all the time.”