Saturday, October 10, 2009

H1N1 Preparedness At Tufts University

H1N1 Preparedness At Tufts University
by Peter Yeh & Mary Cheng*

Image Credit:jpcolasso (Flickr)

According to an email sent out to the campus from Dr. Margaret Higham, Medical Director of Tufts University Health Service, over forty undergraduate students at Tufts University on the Medford Campus have shown signs of Influenza Like Illness (ILI). Although it is likely that not all of these students actually have H1N1 flu, some of them probably do.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic last year, various departments on Tufts campus have worked collaboratively to ensure students’ health. Health Services, Dining Services, Residential Life, and Public Safety, have all have been actively involved in the prevention process. Michelle Bowdler, the Senior Director of Health & Wellness Services, praised the University’s teamwork. She was especially impressed by the message from President Bacow, who said that the safety and comfort of students come first, even though taking care of these preparations can be costly. “The president has put the students first and has told us to take necessary steps to ensure that we are addressing the flu adequately, “ Bowdler noted.

Students, staff and faculty have been strongly reminded to take extra care of personal hygiene. Health Services disseminated flyers around campus to remind students to wash hands often, sneeze/cough into their sleeves, and refrain from rubbing one’s nose and eyes with one’s hands, which is how virus enters the body. She also suggested that people keep an appropriate social distance like “don’t shake every hand” and “don’t share food” to prevent the transmission of disease.  Even though people should take precautions against the flu and be serious about the impact it could cause, the director emphasized the need not to panic. One of the things that health service has to combat is flu anxiety. According to the director, many people walk into the health service worried, thinking they have swine flu. She said, “If you don’t have a fever, you probably don’t have flu.”  The Health Service is not saying they do not want to see students without fever, but simply wants to acknowledge that there is a significant amount of worry among the student community.

Bowdler also showed solid plans to demonstrate Health Service’s strategies against H1N1. Flu kits filled with masks, ibuprofen (Tylenol), and disposable thermometers are available, as well as several linen packets, each filled with pillows and blankets, ready for who need to sleep in isolation rooms. In all, the director pointed out that she is “impressed with the tremendous amount of planning and forethought that the University and its different departments are contributing to the effort.”

In regards to H1N1 prevention, Dining Services and other departments have also taken their own steps. Along with receiving linen packets, if needed, students placed in isolation rooms have the option to either fill out a form to have a friend deliver their meal for them, or directly call Dining Services at a specified time for an ILI care package. These ILI care packages consist of food and fluids suited for various stages of recovery, ranging from chicken soup and Gatorade to cereal, fruits, microwavable food, pudding, and even different entrees. 

In addition to implementing the new delivery system this semester, Dining Services has taken precaution to a new level. The employees have received extra training and using gloves more frequently.The self-serve utensils are changed more frequently and hand sanitizers have been stationed on the counter next to the dining hall staff members who swipe IDs and handle money. However, the hard work that Dining Services is doing will not suffice if diners do their part. Patti Klos, Director of Dining and Business Services, said “everyone still has to be vigilant, and take extra care.”

The collaboration between Health Service and Dining Services is reinforced by the work from the Department of Public Safety. Furthermore, the Tufts University-wide Task Force continues to monitor the situation, collaborate with other colleges and attend meetings held by outside public health officials. John King, Senior Director of Public and Environmental Safety, said that “Tufts University is doing a fine job addressing the issues and uses the meetings to measure Tufts University’s progress.” The University-Wide Task Force on Pandemic Planning, a specialized organization that President Larry Bacow launched in 2006 and headed by Director John King, meets at least twice a month to discuss potential areas of planning, ensuring the best protective measures for the University.

Besides health issues, another major concern for students is homework and grades. The University works with faculty members to prioritize students’ health above class-work. During the onset of the flu, many students fall ill and miss class. “The professors were really accommodating,” said a junior, who contracted H1N1, at Tufts. “They wanted me to get better first.” The new online Illness Notification Forms also provide students with a more efficient way to communicate with professors. 

Another concern for Jumbos is what happens off campus. Many out of state students, especially those from other countries, are worried about their travel plans during Thanksgiving and Christmas break. Director Bowdler said “it would be wonderful if we received the H1N1 vaccine and could vaccinate students prior to these holidays, but we believe now that we will be receiving the vaccine somewhere in mid-November.”

Furthermore, people are still worried about the vaccines effectiveness. Even though medical staff assure students that the vaccine is safe the issue is a  “complicated affair,” according to Dr. Rosemary Taylor, an epidemics professor. Due to people’s past experiences and certain ingrained beliefs with vaccinations, not everyone would be willing to be vaccinated. As a result, Director Bowdler highlighted Health Service’s proactive stance in delivering information regarding the swine flu vaccine’s safety to the public. Despite the anxiety, the 2000 students who showed up for the seasonal flu vaccine this fall (some 800 more compared to previous years), serve as a great motivation factor for health service to continue its swine flu vaccination campaign.

The rule of thumb for everyone, including all travelers, is still to take care of personal hygiene.

*Author Contact Information: Correspondence to the authors should be addressed to Mary Cheng at
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