Carnegie Mellon and Penn State Universities Face Challenge of Swine Flu

When my clock radio went off this morning, I heard a report that the number of confirmed cases of swine flu at Carnegie Mellon University has risen to 26 since their first reported case on August 10th. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has more:
26 cases confirmed at Carnegie Mellon have been classified as mild to moderate

Eight new cases of swine flu were confirmed at Carnegie Mellon University yesterday, bringing the total to 26 students with H1N1 influenza, and the number is expected to climb.

Penn State University also confirmed several cases, while other local universities reported no problems to date.

Anita Barkin, CMU director of student health services, said the first confirmed case of swine flu occurred Aug. 10. Freshmen arrived Aug. 16 for a week of orientation, and classes begin Monday. So far, flu cases have been mild to moderate with no hospitalizations or complications.

"We can maintain and meet our mission as an academic institution without a problem," Ms. Barkin said. "Some resources are being tested in terms of taking care of the students, but we will be able to continue to have students engaged in the academic experience."

For now, classes will continue. But that could change if more severe cases occur, she said. A high rate of absenteeism among student, staff or faculty also could force the university to reconsider its strategy and suspend classes or activities.

"I think people are taking this in stride," Ms. Barkin said. "We are attempting to keep the public well informed about strategies used to decrease the chance of contracting H1N1, and asking staff and faculty not to engage in social or classroom activities if they are ill."
Carnegie Mellon is following CDC guidelines to handle the outbreak. CMU's approach includes providing students and staff with flu prevention information and Tempa-dots. Anyone with a fever of 100ºF/37.8ºC or higher is to call Health Services immediately and stay home except to get medical care or other necessities until the fever has been gone for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medication. On-campus students with flu are in isolated units with nursing care. Health Services also has surgical masks for those who are ill and must go from point A to point B for medical reasons. This does not mean that ill students are going to be tooling around campus or going to class with masks on. Students with fevers are to stay away from class, no doctor's excuse necessary, until their fevers have been gone for 24 hours. In return, faculty are going to be extra-lenient in allowing students to make up work.

Penn State University also has a number of confirmed swine flu cases. Their approach is quite similar to CMU's: any ill student is to self-isolate, no doctor's excuse necessary. Penn State does not currently have space to house ill students together, but they hope to change that as the year goes on.

Penn State has also set up a website to aggregate swine flu information.

It seems that both universities are handling this challenge well. Governor Rendell announced the first confirmed case of swine flu in Pennsylvania on May 3rd; CMU had information out to the community on May 6th. Still, controlling the outbreak is going to have a big impact on campus life and on student work. Self-isolation by any student with a fever will mean a lot of missed classes and make-up work, and that's assuming that the schools do not have to cancel classes and activities.

My younger sister did her undergrad work at Carnegie Mellon. Two things that stood out, to me at least, about that experience: the work is really tough, and the community is behind its students 100%. We wish the ill students a speedy recovery, and everyone else continued good health and as little disruption of their work as possible.

Earlier H1N1 posts: Swine Flu and Face Masks; Swine Flu: Here We Go Again

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