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Important Health and Safety Information re: H1N1 Influenza

August 27, 2009

Dear Members of the Brown Community,

With the opening of the 2009-2010 academic year rapidly approaching, we are writing with the most recent information and guidance we have regarding H1N1 influenza.

As you are likely aware from recent media coverage, federal and state efforts to develop and revise plans for dealing with H1N1 this fall are ongoing. Brown has a well-established task force to monitor the situation and to ensure that appropriate plans are in place to protect our community. The task force is in regular contact with the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH), faculty from the Alpert Medical School, and leadership from Brown Health Services. 

H1N1 is a new strain of the influenza virus with similar symptoms and behavior to the seasonal flu that infects people every year. As it is a new virus, humans have not yet developed immunity to it, so public health authorities anticipate a large number of people will likely be infected this fall and winter. H1N1 is prevalent in Rhode Island and patients with flu-like symptoms are presumed to have the H1N1 virus.
At this time, the virus has behaved similarly to the seasonal flu with the vast majority of patients recovering without any serious problems.

The symptoms of H1N1 are indistinguishable from seasonal flu and consist most commonly of sudden onset of fever (100 or greater) with cough and/or sore throat. Other symptoms may include runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headaches, chills and fatigue. It is different from a `stomach bug' which usually consists of nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea and from the common cold which is usually milder and does not come on as quickly.

Like seasonal flu, H1N1 spreads mostly from droplets (like spit and
mucous) from the mouth, nose, and throat. This happens when a person with the flu coughs or sneezes near (within 3 to 6 feet) an uninfected person. The virus can also live for a few hours on surfaces so you can become infected by touching something like a doorknob or telephone that has been touched by someone with the flu and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes. This is why frequent hand washing or use of an alcohol-based hand gel is so important.

Public Health officials in Rhode Island, and our efforts at Brown, will be focused primarily on trying to limit the spread of H1N1 during the course of the fall and winter. The most important thing Brown community members can do to prevent the spread of illness is to practice good hygiene. This includes:

* Washing hands often with warm water and soap or an alcohol-based hand gel, especially after you cough or sneeze. We are deploying sanitizer stations in high-traffic public areas across the campus this year to make hand-washing easier. Individuals and departments may purchase sanitizer for individual and local use through the Brown Bookstore.

* Covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it. If tissue is not available cough into your sleeve/elbow.

* Avoiding touching your mouth, nose, or eyes at anytime, but especially when you are sick as this is a common way H1N1 can spread.

Brown community members should also get the regular seasonal flu vaccine. Although the regular seasonal flu vaccine does not protect against H1N1, we strongly encourage all community members to get the vaccine this year. By preventing seasonal flu, we will have more resources to evaluate, treat, and advise the large number of people who may be affected by H1N1 this fall. Health Services will offer the seasonal flu vaccine free to students on a walk-in basis, with no appointment required, when it becomes available. Flu vaccine clinics will be available on-campus for faculty and staff as well, and information about those dates, and when the vaccine is available for students, will be circulated widely in the coming weeks.

Plans for distribution of an expected H1N1 vaccine remain under development by federal and state authorities at this time. Recent recommendations from the CDC have placed individuals under age 24 in one of the top priority groups for receiving the H1N1 vaccine. We anticipate more information will be available in the coming weeks regarding how and when this vaccine will be given.

Individuals who are sick with flu symptoms should stay home from school or work and, to the extent possible, limit contact with others, except to seek medical care, for at least 24 hours after they no longer have a fever, or signs of a fever, without the use of fever- reducing medicines. High risk individuals (those who are pregnant; have significant asthma or other respiratory illness, significant chronic cardiovascular, liver, blood, neurologic disease or diabetes, HIV, or are taking immunosuppressive drugs) should contact their health care provider (Health Services in the case of all students) immediately if they become ill and are strongly urged to get the seasonal flu vaccine. Students with flu symptoms and significant shortness of breath or chest pain should also call UHS immediately (staff and faculty with the same symptoms should contact their health care provider).

Students and others who are returning to campus in the coming days and weeks should delay their arrival if they are sick with flu symptoms.
Students who may not be able to get to campus for orientation or the first day of classes because they are sick should contact the Office of Student Life at (401) 863-3145. Students coming back to campus may also wish to consider bringing with them a non-mercury type (digital) thermometer that they can use in case they get sick and wish to check their own temperature.

Due to the fact that H1N1 is a novel strain of flu, public health officials anticipate a higher than normal rate of infection among the general population this year. We are factoring those expectations into our planning and further guidance for faculty, staff, and students regarding managing potentially higher than normal absenteeism rates in the classroom and the workplace will be forthcoming from senior academic officers and the Office of Human Resources. Additionally, specific guidance for students who are sick regarding self-isolation in the residence halls will be available on the University Health Services website at: http://brown.edu/health.

Further information about H1N1 and links to websites such as RIDOH and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) can be found on-line at:
www.brown.edu/h1n1.

If you have any questions regarding appropriate precautions, faculty and staff should consult their physician and students should call University Health Services at 863-1330. Department heads, supervisors, and employees with questions about work related safety issues related to H1N1 can contact the Office of Environmental Health and Safety at
863-3353 or Human Resources at 863-3175 for guidance.

Sincerely,

Russell C. Carey
Chief Risk Officer
Senior Vice President
Corporation Affairs and Governance

Margaret Klawunn
Vice President
Campus Life and Student Services