Washing hands of H1N1: tracking the institutional response

As students flood hallways once again, the looming spectre of an influenza H1N1 outbreak is making institutions think twice about a stalwart measure of student accountability this semester – the doctor’s note.

Recommendations for pandemic planning for universities and colleges were issued Sept. 9 by the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care. Ontario Health Units serving Waterloo, Guelph and surrounding regions explicitly suggest students sick with flu not visit the doctor’s for the sole purpose of getting a note for their professors. The idea is to minimize the number of flu sufferers circulating in public.

My own institution issued an internal memo to faculty regarding its updated institutional policy on doctor’s notes but I haven’t seen anything public. Tracking the institutional responses at local colleges and universities — and the responses of faculty and students — might be a fresh local angle on the story.

In the meantime, the benefits of handwashing was reinforced by The New York Times, which summarized the data on the effectiveness of handwashing and the use of hand sanitizers for preventing the spread of flu. For good measure, they ran another piece on the effectiveness of wearing face masks. (It turns out, it is better for the ill to wear them rather than the well).