WASHINGTON — Hoping to stop swine flu in its tracks this fall, U.S. health officials on Thursday advised university students, faculty and staff to "self-isolate" themselves in their dorm rooms or off-campus homes if they develop flu-like symptoms.
College students are a high-risk group for the 2009 H1N1 virus, which has spread to at least 168 countries after emerging in Mexico this spring. The latest data from the World Health Organization reports at least 182,166 confirmed cases and 1,799 deaths worldwide.
The new guidelines for colleges and universities issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recommends that students and school employees not attend classes or come to work. During this time, they should also limit contact with other people, except to seek medical attention.
"They should ask a friend or a roommate to care for them by bringing them meals" and medication, said Education Secretary Arne Duncan.
These precautions should continue for at least 24 hours after the patient's temperature returns to normal or their fever breaks without the use of medication.
Duncan said students also should be vigilant about keeping commonly used items in their dorms and apartments clean, including doorknobs, keyboards and remote controls. University maintenance staff should likewise make sure that sinks, elevator buttons and classroom desks are kept clean," Duncan said.
Health officials also are encouraging colleges to keep sick workers at home until their symptoms have disappeared.
These precautions are similar to advisories issued earlier this month to employers and schools from kindergarten through grade 12.
Unlike the seasonal flu, which falters in the heat and humidity of summer, the swine flu has continued to spread, particularly among children. Day care centers and some summer camps have closed as a result.
The disease is expected to gain strength this fall, and college students are particularly vulnerable because they don't see doctors on a regular basis, said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
A CDC advisory panel has recommended that people under age 25, which includes most college students, be among the first to get the long-awaited Swine flu vaccine, which will likely require two treatment courses to provide full protection when it becomes available in mid-October.
Sebelius said health officials are using Internet social networking sites to encourage students to get vaccinated.
"We're hoping were on track to be ahead of this virus, to get the college-age population vaccinated once the vaccine becomes available in mid-October and to keep students as safe and secure as possible in the meantime," Sebelius said.
If severe outbreaks occur, colleges and universities working with local health experts could impose more severe precautions such as isolating sick patients in one location or canceling public gatherings. Those decisions will be made on an individual basis.
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