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September 3, 2009

H1N1 virus arrives on campus

The bug has arrived on campus.

The first confirmed case at Pitt of the H1N1 influenza virus, also known as swine flu, was reported by University officials this week. John Fedele, Pitt associate director of news, said an on-campus resident student has contracted the illness.

According to Jay Frerotte, director of Environmental Health and Safety, the initial case of a student presenting flu-like symptoms was reported Aug. 27.

“So far we’ve had a small number of cases of students reporting flu symptoms, and they’ve all been mild cases,” Frerotte said. “This is not a time to panic, but we should all be vigilant in hand-washing, reporting illness and self-isolation when we get flu-like symptoms to avoid infecting others. That’s the main message we’ve been trying to get out to the community.”

Pitt is bracing for a possible large outbreak of the H1N1 influenza with a dedicated web site, available at The web site includes Pitt-specific information and guidance, as well as links to the latest global, national, regional and local developments.

In a letter last month to Pitt employees, Ron Frisch, associate vice chancellor for Human Resources, offered tips on preparing for an outbreak of H1N1 flu. Citing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Frisch stated that symptoms for H1N1 flu have been similar to seasonal influenza.

Following CDC guidelines, faculty and staff who have influenza-like symptoms should not come to work and should avoid others as much as possible until free of fever for 24 hours.

Employees also should contact their health care provider by telephone before seeking care.

Household members or those caring for an ill person should follow CDC guidance, available at

Persons who have a high risk of complications from influenza infection, such as those with certain chronic medical conditions like asthma or women who are pregnant, should consult their health care provider about precautionary measures. Individuals are encouraged to take preventive steps, including: Covering the nose and mouth with a tissue when one coughs or sneezes; washing hands often and thoroughly with soap and water or alcohol-based hand cleaners, and avoiding touching eyes, nose or mouth.

In a separate letter to faculty from the Provost’s office, instructors are asked to consider in advance how they will adjust their courses in the event of widespread student absenteeism.

Frerotte said, “According to the latest from the federal government, about 45 million doses of H1N1 vaccine will be distributed [nationally] in mid-October, with 20 million doses available each week after that.”

Still, the distribution of the vaccine will be prioritized by the federal government based on risk factors, he said. “We’re in contact with the Allegheny County Health Department, where we will get the vaccine, and we will follow the federal guidelines on distribution when they are made known,” Frerotte said.

According to Elizabeth Wettick, senior physician at Student Health Service, two vaccinations at least a month apart likely will be required to be effective against the H1N1 strain.

While employees also are encouraged to get seasonal flu vaccinations, those do not protect against the H1N1 virus, Wettick noted. Seasonal flu vaccine clinics are expected to begin on the Pittsburgh campus in late September. Wettick said Student Health Service will hold its seasonal flu clinics on Oct. 21 and 27.

Letters from the vice provost and dean of students went out this week to students and parents regarding the H1N1 virus. Pitt has established 24-hour hotlines for students (412/624-2222) and parents (412/648-1100).

—Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 42 Issue 1

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