Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Prepare Your College Student for H1N1

By Carolyn Nicolaysen - Original article found here.

Along with traditional Back-to-School supplies like clothes, books, bed linens, computers, pencils, and paper, there is another list your college student should remember this year: Because of the H1N1 flu pandemic, the list should include canned foods, hand sanitizer, medications and a good dose of knowledge about caring for roommates with the flu.

As preparation for this subject, I contacted BYU Hawaii, BYU Idaho, and made calls to BYU Provo to ask their advice and to ascertain the preparations they have made. What I discovered is that this is a huge job for a safety committee. There really is no way to completely prepare to care for potentially thousands of students who could become ill or quarantined during a flu pandemic.

Parents and students have been asked for years to bring a 72-96 hour emergency kit to school which can be used in case of a natural disaster or other emergency, for short term survival. That advice continues. For those traveling to school by car, be sure this kit also includes items that will keep your student safe on the road should they have car problems or experience delays because of weather while traveling.

We have addressed quarantines since last November, long before a pandemic became a reality. We define a “campus quarantine” as including one or more of the following conditions:

Students are asked to remain in their dorm or apartment unless they become ill.
All classes are canceled.
All social gatherings, devotionals, and church services are canceled.
Students are able to communicate using the telephone or the computer, but interaction with others is severely restricted.
Laundry facilities outside of a student's quarantine area are off limits.
Students are not able to shop for food or medications because of quarantine restrictions.
Do universities really envision how they would implement these limitations in a pandemic? Yes, they do.

How can students prepare?

Should a pandemic become severe there may not be regular delivery of food and other supplies to local stores. This would be a great concern anywhere, but might be of even greater concern if your student attends BYU Hawaii, a great school in a great state that happens to be in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Any interruption of the supply chain in Hawaii by storms or pandemic is a serious matter.

In addition to a great kit for short term survival at home or on the road, students should be prepared with a supply of food. BYU Hawaii has a food supply sufficient to feed students for a short period of time but not for a sustained quarantine. Students on all campuses will be on their own as far as food and water are concerned should a serious pandemic arrive. A student's food cache should include items that can be stored in a small space that are easy to prepare. Foods should be from all the major food groups. They should also include foods which are good to eat when recovering from the flu, and drinks which can be converted to hydration formulas for anyone who has become dehydrated.

Students without cooking facilities and/or without refrigeration should be storing canned and ready to eat foods. Do not forget a manual can opener. Space is limited in a dorm room or apartment, but since none of the schools I spoke with has the ability to supply or deliver food should quarantine be made mandatory, this is an issue that has to be considered.

While I was writing my book Mother Hubbard: What She's Doing Now I was asked by a friend about purchasing a two- week supply of food for his kids at college. At that time I used the spreadsheet calculator I had just finished to establish the amount of food needed and proceeded to calculate the cost of a two-week supply. It was $115.00. That is a small amount to ensure your child will have food to eat should the need arise.

Medications are also important to store before quarantine becomes necessary. BYU Hawaii recommends students have a three-month supply of the prescription drugs they are currently taking. All students should plan to have a precautionary supply of prescriptions on hand. They should also have on hand a supply of medications to treat flu symptoms. While you are in the pharmacy stocking up, add N95 masks, disposable medical gloves, (food service gloves are too thin), hand sanitizer and lotion for the dry hands caused by sanitizers. You will also want to add hygiene supplies such as TP, toothpaste, shampoo and tissues. And remember, when you store prescription drugs, keep them secured where others will not have access to them.

Students will want to keep their surroundings as free from germs as possible. They should have disinfectant wipes and other cleaners to disinfect hard surfaces.

The BYU campuses have communication systems set up to keep students and parents informed should quarantine become necessary. They are prepared to use email, the phone system, text messaging and their web sites as conditions require.

Both BYUI and BYU Hawaii have been conducting a campus wide campaign to help students understand the importance of hand washing and other preventative measures. There is always more that parents can do to educate and prepare their families.

Plan now to send your students back to school with the information they need in an easy to understand form. If a self quarantine should occur, students will need information in chart form or something very simple to understand and follow.

As an example, you may want to send along a list such as the following:

Important Steps to Follow to Prevent the Spread of the Flu

Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into the elbow of your sleeve.
Wash your hands with running water and soap or alcohol-based hand sanitizer after coughing or sneezing.
Wash hands as often as necessary including after touching public surfaces such as door knobs and grocery carts, and after shaking hands.
If you become ill or someone in your apartment is ill, stay home until at least 24 hours after all symptoms have passed or for seven days, whichever is longer.
Clean hard surfaces and items that have frequent hand contact with such as desks, door knobs, keyboards, or pens, with disinfectants. If you have been around someone who is ill, change clothes and wash exposed clothing immediately.
If a roommate becomes sick, isolate them in a separate room. Limit the number of people who take care of the sick person and provide a surgical mask for the sick person to wear whenever anyone else is in the room. Use disposable gloves whenever you enter the room of someone who is ill and dispose of them immediately after leaving their room.
Get a medical evaluation for sick students as soon as symptoms occur. If a member of your household has any preexisting medical conditions, have them evaluated immediately.
Know the symptoms for which you should take a patient to the hospital.
Stay in regular communication with school health officials and your parents to report any changes in patient conditions.
Other instructions and charts you should create to send with your students could include:

Foods to Feed Those Who Are Ill
Signs of Dehydration
Patient Health Evaluation Form
When to go to the Doctor or Hospital
Making a Hydration Formula
Information for all of these topics can be found in previous Meridian articles. See our Emergency Preparedness Archive.

One concern school officials have is that students will overwhelm the hospital and make it difficult for medical personnel to treat those who truly need the care. Students should report to the health clinic first when they suspect they have the H1N1 flu.

A big concern is that students understand the symptoms of both the seasonal flu and the H1N1 flu, and that they understand the importance of being diligent advocates for their own care. Many doctors are no longer testing for the swine flu and even more are simply prescribing anti-viral drugs to anyone who has symptoms. This is extremely dangerous as a patient could have another illness which may go untreated unless they understand the importance of monitoring their own symptoms. A doctor should always do an exam before prescribing a course of medication.

Summer camps throughout the country, including Especially For Youth in Provo have had serious outbreaks of the H1N1 virus. We should expect more outbreaks when Fall semesters and the flu season begin in September.

The H1N1 flu has been mild during the first phase. Even in its mild form people are dying everyday from this flu. There are no guarantees it will remain mild when it returns, but these simple precautions will provide peace of mind for parents, and enable students to return to their studies better prepared with the knowledge they need to stay healthy, and the supplies they will need to care for themselves – just in case.

Note: BYU Idaho has produced a short video explaining the definition and risk of a pandemic. Although it deals with an avian flu pandemic H5N1 the counsel and basic information is applicable.

For more information about pandemic preparations, see Carolyn Nicolaysen’s book Prep Not Panic: Keys to Surviving the Next Pandemic. For information about a two week food supply see Carolyn's book Mother Hubbard, What She's Doing Now or visit her blog.