University responds to swine flu cases

Alissa Ricci

In an effort to cope with the threat of a swine flu epidemic, the Office of Academic Affairs has endorsed a new interpretation of the attendance policy in order to account for absences due to flu-like illness, while the Student Health Center follows a protocol that helps sick students from infecting others and promotes the H1N1 vaccination for the Villanova community.

In the United States, people between the ages of 18 and 64 years old are expected to account for between 7 and 12 million cases of swine flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The CDC also suggests that colleges and universities facilitate self-isolation of residential students with flu-like illness. This has an effect on students’ ability to attend classes.

Craig Wheeland, associate vice president for Academic Affairs, said that the attendance policy has not changed. Regular class attendance is expected and students should inform their instructors about the reasons for their absences in advance if possible.

Wheeland explained that the attendance policy is being applied in a more flexible manner to accommodate students affected by any flu-like illnesses. For instance, professors will no longer require students to submit medical documentation regarding their absences due to flu in order to have the absences excused.

“In a case where a faculty member suspects student abuse of excused absences due to flu, the faculty member can report the matter to an associate dean who will investigate and require the student to provide documentation of the illness,” Wheeland said.

This system has been created to make attendance more manageable for faculty and students, according to Wheeland.

One example is Christopher Ruth, an adjunct faculty member and doctoral student in philosophy, who teaches two sections of introduction to philosophy.

“Since my understanding was that anyone who had flu-like symptoms was encouraged not to attend school, it became too much of a hassle for me, and a potential hazard for students, to continue to require attendance,” he said.

Ruth stopped taking attendance in his classes due to a large number of absences from swine flu.

“This system allows students to focus on getting better while not worrying about class. It’s a matter of trust between faculty and student so work can be made up later. The Student Health Center advises people to remain in residence halls until their health improves,” said Wheeland.

Senior Mike Falco had swine flu in November and experienced firsthand how Villanova is handling cases of H1N1 on campus.

The Student Health Center informed him that they were treating anyone with symptoms of swine flu as if they had it, in order to take preventive measures.

Falco stayed at the Health Center for a few hours until his fever went down, and then he followed the orders to quarantine himself for a couple of days. However, he missed about a week of classes in the process.

“My professors were very understanding and I was able to get extensions on papers and take make-up quizzes,” he said.

One measure that has been taken by the federal government to assist colleges and universities avoid large-scale swine flu epidemics is free H1N1 vaccination.

A shipment of H1N1 vaccine was issued to Villanova in early November.

According to the email from Mary McGonigle, director of the Student Health Center, the vaccines are free as they are considered “federal assets” by the government.

People 24 years old and younger are identified “high priority” for receiving H1N1 vaccinations. In addition, the CDC recommends that anyone who had H1N1 virus should still get vaccinated in order to boost their immunity.

The College of Nursing administered H1N1 vaccines to faculty, staff and students on four separate occasions in November.

The vaccinations took place on November 16, 18, 23 and 30 in Jake Nevin Field House, across the street from the Student Health Center.

Dec. 9 is the last day to receive a vaccination.

Junior nursing student Lauren Fiori administered flu shots alongside other nursing students and professionals.

“Giving flu shots to the Villanova community was a very positive experience,” Firoi said. “I know I feel much more confident going forward in the professional world because I’ve had this valuable practice administering shots during my first full semester of clinical work.”