POWELL, Wyo. - Like numerous colleges across the country, Northwest College has confirmed an incidence of the H1N1 influenza virus (swine flu) among its students.
The infected student, who lives in one of NWC's five residence halls, reported to the college's Student Health Center during the latter part of the first week of classes (Aug. 24-28) with symptoms that suggested the onset of influenza. Roxie Herman, NWC's Student Health Service manager, referred the student to Powell Valley Healthcare for testing.
Herman was notified about the H1N1 confirmation as she was traveling out of state over the Labor Day weekend. College administrators then began implementing a proactive response and communication plan.
The student is now fully recovered and once again attending classes.
While the college is not anticipating an epidemic, it is encouraging students and employees to help prevent the spread of the virus by practicing good hygiene.
"We're telling them to avoid close contact with people who are sick," Herman said, "and to stay home themselves if they're sick. Other preventive habits are to cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, clean your hands often, avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, and practice other good health habits like getting plenty of sleep, being physically active, managing stress, drinking plenty of fluids and eating nutritious food.
"There's no reason to panic. Just be smart. People should be washing their hands anyway."
The college's multi-pronged response calls for college custodians to increase their attention to cleaning bathrooms and public spaces. Disinfecting wipes will be provided to all employees for disinfecting surfaces that draw contact (keyboard, phones, door handles, etc.). In addition, 3,000 bottles of hand sanitizer have been ordered and will be distributed across campus.
Employees who exhibit flu symptoms (elevated temperature, body aches, cough, sore throat, chills, etc.) will be sent home. Nine study rooms in residence halls will be converted, if necessary, into self-isolation rooms for students exhibiting flu symptoms. Those students will receive meals in their isolation rooms instead of at college dining facilities.
Regular flu vaccinations are expected to be available on campus by early October. They'll first be taken to residence halls where they'll be administered to students for $20 per vaccination. Remaining vaccinations will then be made available to college employees. The NWC Student Health Service Center will operate as usual.
More than 1,000 fliers are being distributed on campus today and at the NWC Cody and Worland Centers. The fliers, which outline six steps to avoid contracting the flu, will be sent to all residence hall students and employees through the campus mail system and made available in public restrooms, the Dining Hall and 7th St. Grille.
The college is also taking steps to ensure continuing coverage of key campus services, including housing, maintenance, custodial, business office/payroll, switchboard, security, food service and Web site. NWC's food service provider, Aramark, has already implemented a H1N1 flu toolkit, which establishes protocols for Aramark employees to follow based on the frequency and severity of the H1N1 virus.
In addition, Vice President for Academic Affairs Sher Hruska is e-mailing faculty about the educational aspects of a possible outbreak of swine flu on campus.
NWC President Paul Prestwich is communicating with faculty, staff, students and families of traditional-age students, trustees and directors of the NWC Foundation and Alumni Association.
"We think it's important for all our audiences to understand," Prestwich said, "that Northwest is on top of this situation and taking all precautions to ensure the health and safety of our students and employees."
He said the college is working with the State of Wyoming and Park County Health Department, as well as monitoring updates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about the spread of the H1N1 virus.
In his Sept. 3 weekly H1N1 update, Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC, said, "We had H1N1 influenza throughout the summer in summer camps, and now with colleges and schools coming back into session, we're seeing more cases. The good news is that so far, everything that we've seen, both in this country and abroad, shows that the virus has not changed to become more deadly. That means that although it may affect lots of people, most people will not be severely ill. However, the H1N1 influenza and influenza generally is unpredictable, and that means two things. First, we have to vigorously monitor to see whether it's changing, who it's affecting and what's happening with it. And second, we have to be ready and prepared to change our approach depending on what the virus does."
Frieden added that not only has the virus not become more virulent or more deadly, the CDC has not seen lots of drug-resistant strands. This means the available drugs are still very effective against the virus at this time. Frieden stressed that treatment in the first 48 hours can make a big difference in hastening recovery.
Although it's unlikely NWC's swine flu incident will ultimately turn into an emergency epidemic, the college is prepared for such a scenario and has in place a Pandemic Response Plan.
A NWC flu update page with resource links is being added to the college's Web site today. It can be found at http://northwestcollege.edu/info/flu.dot.
More information about the H1N1 influenza virus can also be found at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's Web site, http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/.