08/27/09 — Mount Olive College sets sights on stopping H1N1 now

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Mount Olive College sets sights on stopping H1N1 now

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on August 27, 2009 1:46 PM

Mount Olive College officials weren't surprised over the weekend when they learned that samples from one of their students were being sent off for testing for the H1N1 virus.

Jo Morgan, director of the Student Health Center, explained that it was a situation officials had been preparing for ever since the new flu strain appeared in 2008.

"We really anticipated this last year," Ms. Morgan said.

The possible case, she said, was detected by an emergency room physician in Kinston, who sent samples off to a state laboratory for testing.

"Because of the time of year, the symptoms and the age of the person this was, we're thinking H1N1," she said.

And since then, she continued, other physicians in the area have sent off samples from students -- probably less than 10 -- to be tested.

Ms. Morgan explained that MOC officials don't have an exact count because the college itself doesn't send the samples. That's done by the various local physicians treating the students once they are referred out of the campus health center.

"We do have a little virus that's going around -- a little GI bug," she said. "That's not unusual at all. We also have a significant number of people coming in just because they have a sore throat or headache and want to make sure it's not H1N1."

Fortunately, she said, most of those cases are not, and the ones that might be, have been relatively mild and can be treated by antiviral medication.

She also said that once H1N1 vaccines are available, they will be made available to students along with regular flu vaccines, likely sometime in mid- to late October.

"Because this age group represents a high-risk group, we are going to offer them (the H1N1 vaccines) for free," Ms. Morgan said.

In the meantime, the college has begun stocking up on hand sanitizer -- making individual bottles available, as well as installing dispensers in high-traffic areas -- and increasing cleaning schedules in high-traffic areas, paying particular attention to frequently touched items like door knobs and computer lab keyboards.

The college also is working to educate students, faculty, staff and parents about H1N1 and the steps being taken via e-mail and Web site notices.

"It is general things they've been told all their lives, but they need to be especially vigilant about now," Ms. Morgan said. "Things like covering your coughs and sneezes and frequently washing or sanitizing your hands. These are simple, but important steps to prevent the spread of H1N1."

Students and faculty and staff experiencing flu-like symptoms are encouraged to isolate themselves in their rooms and avoid attending class, or coming onto campus if possible, until at least 24 hours after they are free of fever without the use of fever-reducing medication.

And, Ms. Morgan continued, for those on-campus students who are self-isolated, the college will work to provide food and class materials, as well as multiple cleanings throughout the day.

"We will do all that is in our power to protect our academic community and minimize the impact of the flu on our campus," MOC President Philip Kerstetter said in a written statement.