ANNAPOLIS – The increasing number of students complaining of flu-like illness is forcing some area universities to take additional steps to contain the virus, such as limiting routine health center visits and sending home or isolating sick students.
As of 7 p.m. Tuesday, the University of Maryland, College Park was reporting 256 cases of suspected H1N1, said Linda Clement, vice president for student affairs.
At the College Park campus, students are screened as they enter the health center and those with flu symptoms are separated from those with other issues, said Dr. Sacared Bodison, director of the university health center.
Towson University officials have temporarily stopped scheduling routine, non-essential appointments in an effort to keep otherwise healthy people from coming into contact with the virus.
“I just blocked the schedule,” said Dr. Lisa Murray, the clinical supervisor at Towson University Dowell Health Center. “You don’t want to have healthy people coming in with all these sick people.”
Towson’s health center has established an isolated waiting room for anyone with a fever over 100 degrees, Murray said. The separate waiting room includes a HEPA filter, and students waiting there are given masks to wear. Providers seeing students with flu-like symptoms are supposed to wear masks as well, she said.
The University of Maryland, Baltimore County also will consider limiting routine health center visits if it sees at least a 50 percent increase in the number of suspected H1N1 cases, said Jennifer Lepus, director of university health services. Lepus said about a dozen students on the Baltimore County campus have come down with the virus.
The campus has placed hand sanitizer and surgical masks on a table in the foyer of the health center, with a sign instructing students with influenza-like symptoms to don the mask before coming into the center, Lepus said.
Like at Towson, Baltimore County students suspected of having the flu are kept in an isolated room. Staff treating those students are using respirators and other protective equipment, she said.
All three universities are asking sick students who live close enough to leave campus temporarily to recover at their permanent homes, as long as they do so without using public transportation.
“We don’t want someone getting on a bus or plane,” Lepus said, adding that in most cases, parents have been coming to campus to take sick students home.
For those who live too far away to go home, or who are otherwise unable to leave, schools are asking that students refrain from going to classes and limit interaction with others.
Towson officials have also been developing a dorm living situation in which sick students stay temporarily on a special floor of the dorms where resident assistants will periodically check on them and bring them food, Murray said.
Similarly, if a well student at Baltimore County has a roommate contract the flu, the student can request to move to a different room, Lepus said. The university keeps a number of empty rooms on hand for various reasons, and students who ask to move for flu-related reasons will receive priority, she said.
The flagship campus at College Park is focusing on flu prevention education, directing health services solely to those with the flu or essential medical needs, and having sick students recover at home, and is not planning to contain sick students in specific areas. It also plans to open the health center on Sunday afternoons in an effort to accommodate more students who are ill, according to a campus-wide e-mail from the health center.
“By the time someone is diagnosed, they’ve already spread the virus, and so containing them someplace doesn’t stop the roommate from getting sick,” Clement said.