Flu Prevention Is a University Priority for Fall 2009

Sept. 1, 2009

AUSTIN, Texas — University communities are particularly vulnerable this fall to the spread of influenza, both seasonal and novel H1N1.

"Between Aug. 24 and Aug. 28 the University Health Services (UHS) clinic had a total of 112 patients presenting with influenza-like illness," said Sherry Bell, senior program coordinator. "Not all patients with influenza-like illness are confirmed as flu, but it's worth noting when you consider that UHS saw no patients with this illness during the same week in 2008."

These numbers reflect only students seen at UHS. UHS does not have numbers for faculty and staff, for students who have sought healthcare off campus, or for those who did not seek healthcare for influenza-like illness.

Bell said university clinics nationwide are seeing the same trend.

"It's just what happens when you have a lot of people gathered in the same space during an outbreak," she said.

UHS and members of the Campus Safety and Security Committee began a public awareness campaign promoting flu prevention this week to help mitigate spread of the disease on campus. The campaign includes three basic messages: 1) practice good hygiene (for example, frequently wash or sanitize your hands and cover your cough/sneeze), 2) stay home and don't attend classes or work if you have flu symptoms, and 3) get the seasonal and H1N1 flu vaccines when they become available.

"These messages are all over campus, including the bathrooms, computer labs and residence halls," said Dr. Bob Harkins, associate vice president for campus safety and security. "In addition to the promotions, Facilities Services and Housing and Food Service have been aggressive with their cleaning programs to try and assure the most sanitary environment possible for our community."

Staff Council is also helping the effort. The group will sponsor an Influenza Forum on Sept. 24, 2-3:30 p.m. at the Avaya Auditorium in the ACES Building. The forum will feature representatives from UHS, Human Resource Services and Campus Safety and Security.

The UHS seasonal flu vaccine campaign for students, faculty and staff begins Oct. 6. The schedule is available on the UHS Web site. UHS has submitted a request for the H1N1 vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) projects this to be available in mid-October. It is unknown at this time, however, when and how much of the H1N1 vaccine will be available for our students, faculty and staff.

At this time, the CDC is not recommending school closures for confirmed H1N1 influenza cases. The university plans to follow these guidelines unless the number of persons affected by flu makes it impractical to maintain university classes and operations. The CDC recommends that universities consult with their state and local health officials if a large number of cases of influenza-like illness occur in their communities.

"We will be consulting with local health authorities throughout the flu season," Harkins said.

Flu season updates and more information about what the university is doing to prevent flu can be found on the emergency Web site.

Visit the Provost's Office Web site for information about class absences due to influenza-related illness.

34 Comments to "Flu Prevention Is a University Priority for Fall 2009"

1.  Deborah Sands said on Sept. 2, 2009

An influenza forum on Sept. 24 is too late. My son's roommate received a confirmed diagnosis of H1N1 flu yesterday. Students need specific instructions about who to notify when they are ill and how they will be able to make up classes. Unless they know they will be able to make up classes, they are going to go to class ill.

2.  Lisa McVey said on Sept. 2, 2009

When you receive the H1N1 vaccines, what process will you use in prioritizing who will and who will not receive the vaccine? My daughter is a liver transplant recipient and a senior at The University of Texas at Austin. I would hope she and others with lowered immune systems for various reasons would be notified as soon as the vaccine is available and be vaccinated. From what I understand, the vaccine is more effective if two vaccinations are given about three weeks apart. Is this part of your plan? I would appreciate an answer concerning my daughter and her status.

3.  Jodi K said on Sept. 2, 2009

Another concerned parent here. Will asthmatic students have priority and receive the vaccine first? Please describe the university's plans for distribution.

4.  Carol Poticny said on Sept. 3, 2009

My son and his roommate are both sick with flu-like symptoms at Dobie. I realize this is an off-campus dorm, but found upon calling that Dobie staff have no plans to deliver food to sick students, even said the sick students could come down to the cafeteria and get food! How crazy is that if there is any hope of limiting the spread of the flu? Are the on-campus dorms doing any better in dealing with sick students? Seems to me there should be better plans in place for dealing with sick students both on- and off-campus.

Note, they did go to University Health Services, which is out of flu medicine.

5.  Paula said on Sept. 5, 2009

My daughter and her roommate both contracted flu at UT Austin since school began. They live in a dorm on campus. There is very little support for students who contract flu. University Health Services and pharmacy are only open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Since she became ill during the weekend, the Nurse Advice Line told her about a Minute Clinic, three miles off campus, where she could be treated. There is little accommodation to make up missed work, resulting in students attending class while contagious. They had to fend for themselves getting meals.

6.  Ann said on Sept. 6, 2009

Deborah is right. Please get with all professors about a proactive plan concerning sick students. The kids have enough pressure as it is to go to class and keep their grades up. They don't need to be worrying about how to cope when they have to miss class. Going to class sick will no doubt make it spread like wildfire since so many students use the same desks. Makeup classes, or any other ways to help the kids, would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

7.  D'Ann Duesterhoeft, M.D. said on Sept. 6, 2009

I find it interesting that University Health Services (UHS) is "concerned." They certainly weren't concerned when my daughter came for help with her flu symptoms. As she is an out-of-state student (I live 1,000 miles away), she turned to the only place she knew to get help and was turned away. She did not want to infect anyone else, so went back to her apartment and tried to take care of herself (no food service available if you live in an off-campus apartment). UHS should get its act together before this flu season gets worse. I have a daughter at another school and have already received a detailed report of what they plan to do. It's easy if you can just go home an hour or so away, but if your family is out of state (or country), tough luck.

8.  Angela Mtz said on Sept. 7, 2009

I am a current student at UT Austin, but also work full time at an AISD school. There are already confirmed cases of the flu in schools, and we are awaiting results for a few students at my school to see if they are positive for H1N1. I need to know as a student if I will be allowed to make up any work that I might miss in the event that I get the virus. I can assure you that if I am not allowed to make up my work, I will be attending classes regardless of whether I have the flu or not. I would like to know what the university's policy on makeup work will be. Thanks.

9.  Kathrine Erwin said on Sept. 8, 2009

I'd like to note from this three-day weekend that I know quite a few people who have come down with flu. Personally, I have a confirmed case and was forced to go to an off-campus doctor due to the health center being closed. Professors also need to be more open about their policies of absence regarding when we're sick--we students are going to class in fear of hurting our grades. This is simply hurting everyone.

10.  Disappointed parent said on Sept. 8, 2009

As a parent, I am also disappointed with the university's "plan." The university is clearly not ready to handle an outbreak of the flu or H1N1. The on-campus clinic is overwhelmed with illness--and they were closed for three days. My daughter went to an off-campus clinic, but they did not have the capacity to run blood work. She and her roommate are both sick and are still going to class because they are afraid not to. Let's see the newest statistics of ill students. This data is well over a week old. I also agree with D'Ann. I receive better information from my son's campus. I expected more from UT.

11.  Vicky said on Sept. 9, 2009

The expectation that on- or off-campus dormitories could implement some sort of plan to provide food for sick students is unreasonable or, at the very least, unfeasible. Any system like that would require resources that this public university simply does not have. While Dobie does have a cafeteria (not the food court at Dobie Mall) within its walls, many of the dormitories on campus do not, and the transportation of meals to sick students would still contribute to the spread of the flu. The potential level of exposure that these healthy individuals would face would threaten not only their immune system but the immune systems of other individuals with whom they interact on a daily basis.

While I (as a full-time student) would appreciate a heightened sensitivity to the needs of sick students, I believe that a more accommodating system with regard to students missing class on the basis of illness is also subject to abuse. Some professors are more understanding, but others are resolute and firm in their policies (and justifiably so).

If a sick student is concerned about the academic repercussions of missing class, then he or she should take all necessary precautions in order to curb the spread of his or her illness. You can't just demand that everyone else be more sensitive or more accommodating to your needs--you have to assume some of the responsibility, too.

In short, everyone must act responsibly. If you, ill student, must come to class, cough/sneeze into your sleeve, wash your hands, etc. I don't mind. Just don't be offended when I wash my hands after shaking yours.

12.  Linda said on Sept. 9, 2009

I am concerned that University Health Services isn't offering the seasonal flu vaccine until Oct. 6. Most count health departments and doctors' offices began offering this a week ago. Wouldn't it be advisable to start the seasonal vaccines now, before the H1N1 vaccine becomes available in October?

13.  Pam Berdanier said on Sept. 10, 2009

I have an idea on the food issue. We also live out of state. Our son is a freshman living in the Honors Quad. We stocked his room with several of those Annie Chung microwaveable heavy noodle soups and cashew granola bars. It might be wise to send your healthy students a care package of foods like that to keep in their room in case they get sick and don't want to go to the cafeteria. I also stocked a first aid kit with every over-the-counter medicine I thought our son could possible need, including some of those Tylenol cold and flu pills and ibuprofen. University Health Services did a good job of recommending setting up a first aid kit for your kid.

14.  Reynaldo Garcia Jr. said on Sept. 10, 2009

I have two students at the university whom I would like to have vaccinated for influenza. They are Reyvick and Reyberto Garcia.

15.  J Woods said on Sept. 10, 2009

This is absolutely unacceptable! I am a 1982 graduate of the university, and I am reading this as an alumnus. I absolutely CANNOT believe that The University of Texas at Austin, a university that prides itself on research, medicine and social causes, would treat our students this way. Establish a comprehensive program to care for and feed these ill, TUITION-PAYING students! Get your act together, UT!

16.  Corrine said on Sept. 10, 2009

Well said, Vicky.

My son is living on campus in a dorm. I have instructed him to get the flu shots as soon as they are available. However, they won't be available for some time, and people are already getting sick. But if my son prepares for the possibility of getting the flu in advance, he should be OK. If he gets some juice, soup, crackers, yogurt and other foods that are good when you are sick, and keeps them on hand in his dorm room, he will be prepared. He already has Tylenol, a thermometer and other things he may need.

Can't students work out something with some of their classmates in advance to help cover each other with notes and such in the event they get sick?

17.  Pam Pribble said on Sept. 10, 2009

When will the vaccine be available to students?

18.  Melinda said on Sept. 10, 2009

I have two children at UT, one in an apartment with two others and one in the dorm. My daughter is so sick, she had to get to a doctor, yet was told no one would see her because there are too many sick kids. Two days later with a 104-degree temperature, she set off in the rain on a bus to the urgent care clinic, which was the only option according to the UT clinic. She has the flu, of course, and was prescribed Tamiflu. She has contracted a respiratory infection as well. If she is not better by Monday she is to go back for that. She was told not to go to class tomorrow. Fortunately, she e-mailed professors the first evening she was sick (Monday). OK, so she has missed a week of classes and not really sure if she will be at school next week. Instead of scheduling a "what to do IF you get the flu" seminar (obviously it is a little too late in the game), why doesn't UT post on the Web site for parents and students something now on "you have the flu, do this" and let the students know that their professors will help them catch up. At least I would have less anxiety over my child's care and condition as well as an assurance my MONEY and interest on the loan won't be wasted because my child is ill.

19.  Lynda said on Sept. 10, 2009

My daughter just informed me that she has received her "seasonal" flu shot today (Sept. 10, 2009) at University Health Services.

20.  Laurie said on Sept. 10, 2009

I am a staff member, and I work in an under-staffed office at the university. I don't have time to visit a doctor to get screened for H1N1. Can the university allow faculty and staff to get screened on-campus? It doesn't have to be through University Health Services. If UT could bring in some physicians who accept the current health insurance and treat faculty and staff on-campus, that will help get more folks screened.

21.  Laura said on Sept. 10, 2009

Let's be more than "concerned" and put something into action. How about expanding University Health Services' hours from say 6 a.m.-10 p.m. and open seven days a week? My daughter tried to visit the clinic last year for a strep test and they couldn't see her for two days! I can only imagine what could happen with an H1N1 outbreak.

Hiring additional staff during this time is minor compared to our students' health and parents' state-of-mind.

22.  Veleria Wilson said on Sept. 10, 2009

I am not very happy with University Health Services. My daughter contracted the flu when they were closed so we called the 24-hour number and they were no help. Finally we got her into a private doctor in Austin and then brought her home to get her over this because there was no help for her to get food, medicines, liquids, etc. and since she was in bed too sick, we had to go do it, and we live five hours away.

23.  Angela Thomas said on Sept. 10, 2009

I am a nurse in Dallas and a mother of a junior. Reading these postings is heightening my concerns. Please come up with a viable plan for students who should NO MUST stay home. Coughing or sneezing into your sleeve is better than your hand but is hardly a completely effective method of stopping transmission. Besides, from what I am reading, people really feel sick with this flu. Students should be able to get the lecture notes online along with the assignments, and what about taping lectures for webcasts? Timely communication and information from the university is critical. Perhaps an e-mail to the students to get prepared with enough food in their apartments along with symptom relief medications would be a good idea. I have already gotten my seasonal flu vaccine at a local grocery store. Oct. 6 does seem late for the students to be getting it.

24.  Smithers said on Sept. 10, 2009

Don't you know by now that the undergrad student population is the lowest priority of the university. They are just cattle being left to fend for themselves. If a few dozen or hundred flunk out due to this epidemic, all the better! Just another convenient way for them to weed students out of the system.

25.  cindy said on Sept. 11, 2009

I, too, am a disappointed parent. My daughter had all the systems of the H1N1 flu and went to the campus clinic. After three hours of waiting, she was told she could not be seen because they were so busy. She went off-campus to be seen and was confirmed she had the virus. I am upset she did not receive better care while feeling so miserable.

26.  Carole C said on Sept. 11, 2009

I would hope that the university has priority plans for both the seasonal flu vaccine and the H1N1 vaccine. As a health care professional, I know this year the demand will be overwhelming. The seasonal flu vaccine just became available. The swine flu vaccine will not be out until early to mid-October. In the meantime, UT has to decide who is the most in need. Those with preexisting conditions, such as transplant patients, asthmatics, etc., need to have priority since they are the most at risk for serious infections and complications.

27.  Jim Wissinger said on Sept. 11, 2009

There are several options for food delivery on- and off-campus. Longhorn Delivery, Eat Out In and Dine On Demand to name a few.

28.  Debra said on Sept. 11, 2009

I am concerned about the new Housing and Food Service "green" initiative: the removal of the trays in the cafeterias. This is my my daughter's fourth year as an on-campus dorm resident. She has been to the cafeterias only a few times since the new policy has been in place, and she refuses to go back. The tables are not cleaned after they are used. They are covered with remains of spilled food, and most likely, with germs from having used eating utensils placed on them. She scalded herself one time while trying to juggle plate, cup and ID. This new policy may save energy costs, but it is putting the health of the students who use the cafeterias at risk.

29.  Jan Goldberg said on Sept. 11, 2009

My son attends UT and lives in an off-campus apartment. His brother was diagnosed with flu last Sunday. I told my son at UT to call if he started feeling bad. He called Monday with a fever and sore throat. I sent him to the clinic because I am six hours away. After waiting for two hours he was told to go home and take care of himself. I am a school nurse myself and I am very busy also, but when they send an ill student home they must realize THERE IS NO ONE TO CARE FOR THEM.

P.S. I do not appreciate the way the clinic spoke to my child. Telling him I did not know what I am talking about and I need to read up on the flu and treatments! I am a school nurse, and I am in the middle of this JUST LIKE YOU. Would you like it if I treated your child the way you treated mine?

30.  Amira Paul, MD said on Sept. 12, 2009

My daughter had a fever of 101.2 degrees and had flu-like symptoms. I advised her to go see the University Health Services (UHS) clinic. She was told her wait would be less than half an hour, yet her wait was more than two hours long. She told me it was one of the most miserable days of her life. Her back, head, knees and elbows ached horribly. The nurse told her she has the flu, that she should just take Advil, skip class and go home. She was not given any medication, did not perform a nasal swab to check for flu, so on what basis can this nurse tell my daughter she has the flu? We live about four hours away, so I advised her to go to a real doctor off campus. Unfortunately, this doctor did not perform a nasal swab as well. I would have expected her to receive this primarily at the university anyway. She was forced to go downtown to a Minute Clinic to test for the flu. I am just wondering why a big university does not have flu kits to perform a simple nasal swab. CDC recommendation: If patient has flu-like symptoms, they should test for flu, and if flu A positive, patient should perform sub-type test for H1N1 so they may receive proper treatment. UHS doesn't have any medication or any lab workup, such as flu tests, so what is the clinic for? They only told my daughter that she is sick. Of course, she knows she's sick, that's why she's there.

31.  Theresa Spalding, MD said on Sept. 15, 2009

It is very hard to be away from your child when they are ill and the widespread pandemic with H1N1 influenza causes parents even more concern. UT and UHS recognize the impact this infection has on students--on their health, their studies, their living situation and their activities--and we have been working all summer to plan for this much anticipated second wave of the pandemic. Confounding this situation is that the seasonal flu will be appearing in the next few months. There have been a number of questions regarding H1N1 and seasonal influenza prevention, vaccines and treatment asked by parents and students.

Hopefully, the following will provide a more comprehensive explanation of:
• testing for the H1N1 flu
• the types of flu we are seeing at UHS
• where to go for additional information
• how to determine if you need to be seen by a healthcare provider
• when to stay home and use self care

UHS’ approach to a student who has flu symptoms:

This past spring when the H1N1 virus first appeared UHS followed CDC and Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) directives to test all patients with symptoms, start treatment on all suspected cases, and to isolate the patient and their close contacts. Once H1N1 was identified as the novel virus causing this pandemic, it was noted that it primarily caused a mild form of influenza compared to the feared deadly infection like the Avian Flu. Therefore the CDC and DSHS issued several new directives that UHS, along with many medical providers, has followed:
1. Patients to be considered as having influenza are those with a fever over 100.0 degrees F AND a cough and/or sore throat. A patient may have other symptoms, but the above must be present.
2. Only perform H1N1 cultures on those patients who are at high risk of complications, and this test is for epidemiological purposes as it takes over a week to get the results back.
3. Only treat those patients who are at high risk of complications with an anti-viral medication (such as Tamiflu), and only if it can be started within 48 hours of symptom onset which is the time span in which this medication can make a difference.
4. No longer report numbers of patients infected, just the number of those hospitalized.

To meet these directives and to provide the best care possible using the limited resources of providers and nurses that UHS has, we have done the following:
1. Educate patients on symptoms of influenza, and advise on when to call (see our Web site).
2. Encourage social distancing whenever a patient is ill, including staying off campus (or in the dorm) until fever free for 24 hours.
3. Encourage improved hygiene--use of hand sanitizers, covering your cough, frequent hand washing.
4. Encourage students to call the Nurse Advice Line instead of coming into clinic to ask for assistance, so as to minimize the exposure of the sick person to other possible infections, and to minimize the spread of the infection.
5. Developed specific triage guidelines for our Nurse Advice Line for the symptoms of H1N1 virus as noted above to
a. help determine which patients are at high risk and therefore need to come to the clinic
b. help patients who do not meet the severity guidelines for influenza with information on self care and social distancing
6. At face-to-face triage visits, we give students a self-care “starter” kit with basic over-the-counter medications to help with symptom care.
7. We now have digital thermometers available for those who are without one and who need to monitor their temperature.
8. Upon arrival in the clinics, those patients who have symptoms are asked to wear a mask for the protection of all involved.
9. We perform rapid flu tests primarily on patients whose diagnosis is not evident by history and physical exam.
10. Reserve the use of anti-virals for only those with severe symptoms or who are at high risk for complications, so as to minimize the chance that the virus will become resistant to the medication as some strains of the seasonal flu are already showing.
11. We are also asking that professors not require a student who misses a class to have a note from a medical provider. During this time of pandemic flu students and staff need to be trusted when they report fever and flu symptoms. This one measure will greatly enhance the limitation of viral spread across the campus.

Due to the influx of students contacting our Nurse Advice Line and students presenting for face to face triage wait times are longer than usual. As we always have advised, if you are ill and have concerns, it is best to call the Nurse Advice Line first while remaining at home so as to avoid unnecessary exposure to other illnesses that an ill person is more susceptible to as well as limiting your exposure to others. If you need to be seen, the Triage Nurse will schedule an appointment for you. Many students can take care of their infection with self care instructions and treating the symptoms without being seen by the provider. We have increased our staffing to help reduce the time you may have to wait. We ask for your patience and understanding.

UHS clinics are open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays and holidays. We also have a 24/7 Nurse Advice Line (512-475-6877), and we welcome students to call if they have a concern about any illness or injury. We are, however, experiencing a very large volume of calls and the wait will be long. If you or your child has a general question about the flu, please go to our Web site rather than calling the Nurse Advice Line, so that our nurses can help ill students in a more timely way.

Influenza Vaccines:

Seasonal Flu Vaccine
Every year, UHS immunizes about 12,000 students, faculty and staff in large campus-wide clinic settings. UHS will begin seasonal flu vaccine clinics on campus Oct. 6, which is several weeks earlier than in years past. It is not possible for UHS to initiate these large-scale clinics prior to this date due to delivery dates of all of our vaccines. We do, however, have limited quantities of seasonal vaccine for use at UHS for our high-risk patients. If you are a high risk patient, contact UHS at 512-471-4955 to schedule an appointment

H1N1 Vaccine
UHS has requested H1N1 vaccine for our campus population. Information is not available at this time regarding when it will be distributed to administration sites or how much of the vaccine we will receive. Students will be our top priority group for the H1N1 vaccine although our ideal plan is to make it available to all UT students, faculty and staff. We will offer the H1N1 vaccine at UHS for our high-risk students as soon as we receive it. Please check our Web site for updates.

UHS is continuing to work with state and local health departments to remain updated about seasonal influenza and H1N1. We are working to make sure students have access to thermometers, hand sanitizer and educational messages about how to prevent the flu and care for themselves when they are ill. Please go to the UHS Web site at http://www.healthyhorns.utexas.edu for more information and for updates.

Theresa Spalding, M.D.
Medical Director
University Health Services
The University of Texas at Austin

32.  susan bilban said on Sept. 15, 2009

"11. We are also asking that professors not require a student who misses a class to have a note from a medical provider ...."

This is the comment that gives us parents heartburn: "We are also ASKING that professors..." How about "mandating"?

33.  Stephanie said on Sept. 16, 2009

I've heard from several students that the university has sent out an e-mail requesting that professors are less strict with their attendance policy. It looks as though this year more people will be ill, however, plenty of students get the flu every year and as long as they work with their professors, their scholastic career isn't ruined. There is no need to panic. I am a senior at UT and over the years I've had to take time off for illnesses and I have never, ever come across a professor who punished me for having to take time off for an illness. If you are concerned, just make sure your child/ren know to contact their professor immediately.

34.  Norma said on Sept. 17, 2009

My daughter was given the diagnosis of Type A flu on Wednesday by a doctor off-campus. She has been very ill with a very high fever. Thank God all her professors have been very understanding. I am a concerned parent and was very happy to be able to get an appointment with a doctor within a couple of hours of my phone call. Everyone in Austin, Texas, has been great during this difficult time. Thank you.