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2009 H1N1 Flu and the U

August 27, 2009

Dear University of Minnesota Students, Staff, and Faculty:

The start of fall semester and a new academic year is getting underway. Each fall, unfortunately, also marks the beginning of flu season. This one is likely to bring some potentially unusual challenges. We will experience not only the expected seasonal influenza but also the 2009 H1N1 influenza, which is sweeping the globe in the first flu pandemic in 40 years. Because of this, it is important that we review our current expectations for impact on the University of Minnesota community, the challenges this flu outbreak may cause, and our plans for addressing them. And it is important that you stay alert to these messages during the academic year. Pandemics can change quickly and unpredictably. We will all need to be cooperative, flexible, and resilient in responding to changing conditions. Our goal is to conduct the University’s activities as normally as possible, with the health and well-being of students, staff, and faculty our top priority.

Likely Impact of Flu on the University Community
Public health experts say that H1N1 is a highly communicable virus that they expect to run rapidly through the U.S. population this fall. At this writing, persons 25 years old and younger are more susceptible to contracting the virus than older persons, but everyone is at some risk. The potential impact at the University may include greater-than-usual absences in classes, at student activities, and among those who have campus jobs. This may result in some disruption to our normal activities and services.

In light of this, the University community needs to consider appropriate responses throughout this unusual flu season. All members of the University community must stay alert to e-mail and other communication channels. We will send frequent updates and provide up-to-date information on the University H1N1 Web site.

Flu and Health Risks
There is good news too. As of this writing, H1N1 appears to cause relatively mild symptoms according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO). Most who contract H1N1 will feel ill but will not need to visit their health care providers. Keeping hydrated, treating fever, and getting plenty of rest will speed recovery in 5-7 days. The CDC recommends resuming normal activities 24 hours after fever subsides without the aide of medication.

However, there are individuals at much more serious risk of H1N1 flu: pregnant women and persons with chronic illnesses, including asthma, diabetes, and conditions causing impaired immune systems. If you are among those with these conditions, you should contact your health care provider now to develop a prevention and treatment plan. If you are among those with these conditions and have been exposed to or experience flu symptom onset, seek medical care promptly.

A list of symptoms and CDC recommendations can be found here.

Public health experts recommend some simple measures to help prevent or reduce the spread of 2009 H1N1 flu:

  1. Practice good hand hygiene by washing your hands often with soap and water, especially after coughing or sneezing, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  2. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. If you don’t have a tissue, then cough or sneeze into your elbow or shoulder and not into your hands.
  3. If you become ill, stay home until you recover.

Vaccination for H1N1 and Seasonal Influenza
While 2009 H1N1 influenza is new, we can also expect seasonal flu virus to strike as it does every year. H1N1 and seasonal flu will each have their own vaccines. The CDC recommends that you get a seasonal flu shot as early as possible after it becomes available in September. Pay close attention to your community or University campus communication channels for opportunities to be vaccinated against seasonal flu. Vaccine for the H1N1 influenza is expected to become available later this fall. It will be provided first to high-risk groups. We will send you information about the H1N1 vaccine as it becomes available.

Attention, Cooperation, Flexibility
All of us hope that the impact of H1N1 will be minimal and short-lived. However, University Safety and Security groups will stay alert to potential changes, and we will communicate them to you as rapidly as is feasible. In this flu season, we ask for your attention to e-mails and the Web site for information about H1N1. We also ask your cooperation and flexibility in mounting an effective response to this unusual challenge. Stay healthy and stay informed!


Kathleen O’Brien, Vice President for University Services and Officer of the Day

John Finnegan, Assistant Vice President for Public Health and Dean of the School of Public Health

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University of Minnesota Pandemic Influenza Response Plan (332 K pdf)