Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Officials reinforce precautions for summertime flu

Go to these Web sites for:
• Information on the flu from U.S. health officials —
• Information on the U-M response to the flu —
• Information for visitors to U-M medical facilities —

Summer is not supposed to be the flu season in Michigan.

Yet, there continue to be cases of Influenza A H1N1 (formerly swine flu) diagnosed throughout the state and within the communities that host the three campuses of U-M.

The most recent example came earlier this week when physicians at the University Health Service treated about a dozen students attending a summer camp on the Ann Arbor campus. The students had become ill with flu-like symptoms and all were immediately treated and isolated from other summer campers.

According to Dr. Robert Winfield, chief health officer, there is every reason to believe there will be more cases of H1N1 flu diagnosed in the region – and, by extension, on the three U-M campuses – during the coming months as Michigan heads into the normal flu season this fall and winter.

Winfield says federal, state and local health data show that the continuing level of presumed H1N1 illness is comparable in both scope and severity to what normally would be seen with the typical seasonal flu.

“The difference now is that this is a new virus, for which we have no inherent immunity or vaccine,” Winfield says. “Still, it is important to neither over-react nor under-react to the situation.”

According to state heath officials, the number of confirmed and probable cases of H1N1 flu throughout the state stands at 655, with seven deaths. However, Winfield points out that these numbers reflect a low estimate of the illness, since testing for H1N1 is now limited to those who require hospitalization. 

“There are likely tens of thousands who have had mild to modest illness in the state,” Winfield says.

Many of the most seriously ill flu patients are being transferred from across the state to the U-M Health System because it is a major center for treating severe lung failure.

“This availability of specialized equipment and advanced-care treatments put our hospitals at the forefront of caring for complicated H1N1 influenza cases.  Because of this, our colleagues in the Health System have been bearing substantial stress when called upon to care for these very ill individuals,” Winfield explains.

Take precautions

One of the most important things for everyone to do is to take seriously the kinds of common-sense precautions we all have heard, Winfield says. That includes:

• Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly using soap or hand sanitizer.

• Avoid touching your nose and eyes directly.

• Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve, not your hand, when you cough or sneeze.

• Use tissues and dispose of them properly.

“While these measures may seem basic to most of us, they are very important and they really do work to control the spread of the flu or other illnesses,” Winfield says.

Stay home when ill

Campus health officials also advise faculty and staff to say home if they become ill with flu-like symptoms.

“The best thing to do is to use sick time or paid time off to stay home until you get better,” Winfield says. Typically that means seven days or until free of symptoms for 24 hours, whichever is longer. Self-isolation for this seven-day period helps to minimize the spread of the disease and also helps those who become ill to recover faster, Winfield says.
“It is also a courtesy to your co-workers (who have been within 6 feet of you while you were ill or for the 24 hours prior to becoming ill) to notify them if your doctor has told you that you probably have H1N1. This will allow them to be alert for the symptoms and to consult their personal physicians if they have an underlying health problem.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines flu-like illness as a fever of 100.4F or greater, plus a cough or sore throat and possibly other symptoms like runny nose, body aches, headaches, chills, fatigue, vomiting or diarrhea.

Because the flu has been mild in severity, most who become ill will recover without medical care, Winfield says. The CDC recommends that those with underlying health conditions (severe asthma, diabetes, HIV disease) or those who are considered high risk should seek treatment from their personal health care provider.

The CDC considers individuals in these groups to be at high risk:

• All children younger than 5

• All persons age 65 or older

• Children and adolescents receiving long-term aspirin therapy and who might be at risk for experiencing Reye’s syndrome after influenza virus infection

• Pregnant women

• Nursing home residents

Be prepared

Preparation is paramount and summer is the perfect opportunity to review contingency plans on campus. That’s the advice of the All Hazards Planning Group that has been meeting throughout the summer.

One of the key tasks for this collection of 20-30 people from all three campuses has been to take the lessons learned during the outbreak of the flu this spring and apply those to updated plans for what could happen this fall and winter.
The panel includes doctors from the Health System who are treating patients with the flu, and public health experts in communicable diseases.

“You, too, can be prepared by reconfirming alternative child-care options should you need them in the event of an illness; exploring options with your supervisor for working from home if needed; and understanding your role in your unit’s emergency preparedness plan,” Winfield says.