10/11/09 — Mount Olive College hosts H1N1 awareness event

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Mount Olive College hosts H1N1 awareness event

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on October 11, 2009 2:00 AM

When a group of community and business leaders turned out for a Mount Olive College and Mount Olive Area Chamber of Commerce information session about H1N1 influenza, MOC Director of Health Services Jo Morgan reached for her tape measure.

She handed one end of the tape to Chamber President Tyler Barwick and began walking backwards, pacing off the steps until she reached a distance of six feet.

"If I were to cough or sneeze, guess who's in my direct line of fire?" she said.

Ms. Barwick shied away and tried to hand the tape measure to Mt. Olive Pickle Co. representative Lynn Williams as the attendees laughed.

But Mrs. Morgan made her point: a sneeze or cough can spread droplets of moisture, imbued with germs, up to six feet away from an infected individual. And in a school setting, students of all ages usually sit well within that six-foot distance of one another.

This fact and many others about the virulence and possible danger of influenza are what made Mrs. Morgan steer the college into joining forces with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's flu sentinel program as a way to fight the flu on an international level and keep students safe.

Since 2003, the health center at Mount Olive College has served as a branch data collector for the CDC, keeping track of flu outbreaks and passing the information along to the epidemiological branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Six years later the school's status as a flu watchdog is especially important because "H1N1 likes our college age population," she said.

The informative talk, part of the ongoing Business at Breakfast sessions conducted jointly by the college and Chamber of Commerce, sought to provide answers to questions about what the virus is, how it spreads, what effect it has had so far and what it might do in the future.

The college itself had a brief outbreak of the H1N1 virus earlier in the year, Mrs. Morgan said, and the information had been registered and passed on to the CDC. Besides helping scientists and doctors track the spread of the illness, this service also means students at the college can find out definitively whether their aches and fever are actually the type A virus strain that has already affected thousands of people worldwide.

A regular doctor's office might not test patients with possible cases of influenza, but the college's health center can conduct the test swab and then transmit the information from the test to the state. This approach also helped the school contain and minimize the chance of further transmission, and the college as a whole rallied around providing services to the handful of students who were ill.

The H1N1 pandemic is still affecting the college despite the precautions, Mrs. Morgan said.

"Are we still seeing a few H1N1? Yeah, we are. So is everybody else," she said. "This is a really great wake-up call to say, am I prepared this way?"

Many other colleges and universities in N.C. took the wake-up call to heart and are now joining the fight against flu and beginning to participate in the CDC flu sentinel program. More than 220 schools have added resources and are also collecting data.

The college health center will also be one of the first to begin giving the H1N1 vaccine to at-risk groups, such as students 24 years of age and under, school health care personnel and people with existing conditions and pregnant women. Mount Olive College should begin providing the vaccine, free of charge to students, starting next week.

And students who do come down with influenza like illness, will receive the same care, and advice, Mrs. Morgan has been offering for many years.

"Get your acetaminophen out," she said. "If you can become a slug ... you will get over it far better, far faster."