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St. John’s emphasizes swine flu prevention

St. John’s University officials are arming their students with everything from hand sanitizer to information about healthy living in hopes that they can ward off swine and seasonal flu this fall, the school’s executive director for student wellness said.

“We have teams of educators who are talking to students,” Kathryn Hutchinson said. “They go out during events on campus and go through busy student centers and distribute what we call prevention packets. The packets have hand sanitizers and tips for students. The tips are things like washing your hands and good cough etiquette, making sure you’re getting proper nutrition and enough sleep.”

Only one St. John’s student was diagnosed with swine flu last year, no students have come down with the H1N1 virus this year and very few students are reporting symptoms of seasonal flu, but Hutchinson said they still have painstakingly crafted plans for swine flu education and how the school would respond should there be a massive outbreak.

After the original emergence of swine flu in Queens in April, Hutchinson said St. John’s officials have been regularly meeting to devise an H1N1 response plan with members of areas such as residence life, food services and student health services.

“We have really focused on communication,” Hutchinson said. “We have communication on the Web for our students and families. We are in regular contact with the Department of Health. We have regular phone calls with the city’s Department of Health and the Office of Emergency Management.”

If off-campus students do experience flu-like symptoms, including a 100-degree fever and a soar throat or cough, Hutchinson said they should isolate themselves and call a medical provider. Students living on campus should call the St. John’s health center, Hutchinson said.

Should large numbers of students come down with flu-like symptoms, Hutchinson said they would try to send home students who live relatively close to the school. For students who live too far to go home, Hutchinson said they would need to isolate themselves on campus.

“We have self-isolation kits, which has things like surgical gloves and masks, so if they have to come into contact with someone, they’ll be prepared,” Hutchinson said. “We also have in the kit disposable thermometers and hand sanitizer.”

Queens was the epicenter of the nation’s swine flu outbreak last spring, and St. Francis Preparatory in Fresh Meadows was the first to report large numbers of students with swine flu-like symptoms. The city Health Department reported 50 students and teachers were infected with H1N1 last spring.

Swine flu has killed 54 people in New York City and two in Queens, according to the city Department of Health. More than 900 individuals throughout the city were hospitalized because of the flu, with most of the hospitalizations occurring during the height of the outbreak last spring, according to city statistics.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 174.

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