Students with influenza-like illnesses should return home if they live within several hours of the university, according to the H1N1 flu response plan sent to students today.
In an e-mail to Richmond students, Steve Bisese, vice president for student development, recommended — but didn't require — that students sick with influenza-like illnesses return home if they live within five hours of Richmond and don't require public transportation to get there. Otherwise, they should stay in their dorm rooms for at least 24 hours after their last fever and should wear a surgical mask when their roommates are present. Sick students can also call to have meals delivered to their rooms.
The university has developed a hotline that students, parents, faculty and staff can call if they have any questions or concerns about H1N1: the local phone number is 804-289-8847 and the toll-free number is 1-866-920-5461. It will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 11: p.m. through this Friday. A permanent schedule has not yet been determined.
Provost Steve Allred has asked the faculty to be more lenient in giving extensions on assignments for sick students, said Lynne P. Deane, medical director at the Student Health Center.
"It's okay to go home if you can, and you want to," Deane said.
Deane, who has worked at the university for 18 years, noted that seasonal influenza is typically prevalent from November to early April. "It appears that the students aren't getting sicker, they're just not used to getting sick around this time," she said.
Pregnant women and people under 24 years old are considered "at-risk" for contracting H1N1 influenza, Deane said. Older people could have been exposed to components of the virus, so they have developed a greater immunity, she said.
The Virginia Department of Health tested segments of the Virginia population last spring to determine whether people had H1N1 — an effort to gauge where the virus was present in Virginia. Independent care providers, including the Student Health Center and Patient First, do not currently perform comprehensive diagnostic testing. The only out-patient test for influenza is the rapid influenza A test, which can determine whether someone has influenza, but cannot specify the strain, Deane said.
The students who confirmed that they had contracted H1N1 were reporting on clinical diagnosis by their physicians. A clinical diagnosis a "diagnosis of exclusion" and is not based on test results alone, but rather, the doctor's deductive reasoning, Deane said.
Bisese recommended consulting the Student Health Center for continued updates about the virus. The Student Health Center has ordered surgical masks and is waiting for updates from the Centers for Disease Control on the H1N1 vaccine, which will be provided by the government free of charge, Deane said.
Until people can get vaccinated, Deane and Bisese urged everyone to take simple precautions including washing hands, covering coughs, refraining from sharing utensils and cups in addition to seeking medical attention in the event of flu-like symptoms such as fevers of more than 100 degrees, a sore throat and coughing. It can take up to a week to recover from an influenza-like illness, Deane said.
Bisese said more hand sanitizers had been ordered and would be dispersed around campus.
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"We can't stop influenza from spreading on our campus — it's here and it's going to be here — but we can do as much as we can to mitigate the circumstances," Deane said.
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