Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

U-M launches campaign to prevent H1N1 influenza

Related story:
U-M officials: Vaccinations protect from flu, minimize spread >

By Rick Fitzgerald
Public Affairs
and Kara Gavin
UMHS Public Relations

As a new academic year gets under way, the university has launched a promotional campaign designed to remind students, faculty, staff and U-M Health System (UMHS) patients to cover their coughs and wash their hands frequently as easy ways to prevent the spread of all types of influenza.

The awareness campaign is part of a much larger effort to reduce the impact of regular seasonal influenza, and the novel H1N1 pandemic influenza.  They’re the most visible signs of a massive planning process that includes both Health System and campus operations.

Another visible effort: The university also will be putting hand sanitizer in the common areas of many campus facilities, ranging from residence halls to the Big House. As many as 40 dispensers of hand sanitizer were placed near concession stands at Michigan Stadium for Saturday’s season-opening game.

Dr. Robert Winfield, chief health officer and director of the University Health Service, says the awareness campaign is critical to reinforcing the message that washing your hands and covering your cough really can make a difference.

“Over the summer we continued to see a low but steady level of H1N1 illness on our campus. Public health officials expect this level to increase as students return to classes,” Winfield says. That has been the pattern at other universities across the nation that already have started classes.

The awareness campaign actually was launched two weeks ago when Winfield and other U-M officials sent a series of e-mail messages to students and parents, faculty and staff outlining flu preparations on campus.

In addition to the e-mail messages, there will be “cover your cough” posters placed in residence halls and other campus buildings. There also will be mirror-cling reminders posted in campus and UMHS restrooms urging people to “Deposit germs here” by washing their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.

Even though most of those who become ill with H1N1 flu are getting mild to moderate cases and they are recovering fully in a week or less without any medical intervention, Winfield says it’s important to take this new strain of flu seriously, even as the season for the “regular” flu approaches.

Influenza is certainly being taken seriously at the UMHS, where medical professionals already have cared for some of the state’s most seriously ill H1N1 flu patients.

During the spring and summer, numerous patients with suspected or confirmed H1N1 flu sought care at U-M health centers, emergency departments and hospitals. They included dozens of patients who were transferred to U-M intensive care units from other hospitals for advanced care, including a life-support treatment developed at U-M called extracorporeal membrane oxygenation or ECMO.

At the same time, UMHS teams have been working to plan everything from supply ordering and staffing to new models for clinical care and ethical considerations for allocating medical resources.

Health care workers must be especially careful not to infect patients with viruses they themselves might be carrying — and to protect themselves from infections passed along by patients.

But the flu-prevention message applies to everyone at U-M.

In the message to students, Winfield, Teresa Sullivan, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, and E. Royster Harper, vice president for student affairs, asked students not to come to campus this fall if they are sick with the flu. If they get sick during the semester, students are asked to self-isolate themselves in their residence hall rooms or apartments.

For non-health care workers, CDC is recommending isolation until individuals are fever-free for 24 hours, without the use of fever-lowering medications. For health care workers, the period to stay away from patients is seven days from the start of the fever, or until symptoms are gone, whichever is longer.

The message to faculty asked instructors to consider additional flexibility for those students who may have to miss class for the flu. The message to staff reminded individuals to follow the established procedures in their units for calling in sick with the flu and recommends that staff use sick time or paid time off to recover until they meet the above guidelines for returning to work.

For updates, go to www.vpcomm.umich.edu/pa/key/flu-H1N1.html.

For information on Health System flu care and other topics, go to www.med.umich.edu/flu.

Send further questions about the flu to this address: fluquestions@umich.edu.