A letter to the MIT Community from Kirk D. Kolenbrander, Vice President for Institute Affairs and Secretary of the Corporation


To Members of the MIT Community:

By now, you have heard much about the H1N1 influenza ("swine flu") cases reported in Mexico and other countries, and in several U.S. states, including Massachusetts. I am writing to let you know that MIT is prepared to respond in the event that this virus impacts our campus. Please allow me to tell you about activities under way and to review best practices for preventing the spread of illness.

MIT's preparations to handle a potential outbreak
Since the emergence of H1N1 flu as a potential public health threat, we have been in regular contact with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH). In addition, we are closely following the decisions of the World Health Organization (WHO). To track the progression of infectious diseases on a global scale, the WHO uses a 6-level threat-alert system. Yesterday, the WHO raised the H1N1 flu alert level to 5, meaning the illness now has sustained human-to-human transmission, although it does not meet the definition of a global pandemic.

H1N1 flu appears to respond well to two antiviral drugs: oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza). MIT Medical has supplies of both, to treat patients who actually become sick from H1N1 flu. In addition, the federal government has released a portion of the Massachusetts allocation of antivirals, which we expect will be available to MIT if additional doses are needed. MIT Medical has also obtained a stock of rapid-flu-testing kits for use with patients exhibiting flu-like symptoms. If the rapid test is positive for influenza A, we can have the Massachusetts DPH perform further testing for the specific influenza A subtype that is associated with the current flu outbreak.

Symptoms to watch for
H1N1 flu symptoms are similar to the symptoms of seasonal influenza: fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. In a few cases, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting have also been reported. Like seasonal influenza, H1N1 flu can have symptoms that range from very mild to quite severe. Fortunately, most H1N1 flu cases in the U.S. thus far have been relatively mild.

How to avoid infection and spreading the flu
To protect yourself and others from potential infection, we encourage you to follow the same strategies normally recommended to guard against seasonal influenza and other contagious illnesses: Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and warm water, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer; cover coughs and sneezes with your upper sleeve or a tissue; avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth; and avoid close contact with people who are sick. Individuals with respiratory symptoms should don masks when in close contact with others.

If you have flu-like symptoms-fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue-contact your primary care provider. If you don't have a primary care provider, call MIT Medical's main number at 617-253-4481 or 617-258-0656, TTY. Benefits-eligible MIT employees who are not members of the MIT Health Plan may be seen at MIT Medical's Urgent Care Service or by an MIT Medical primary care provider for an initial evaluation of acute illness, at no charge.

To protect the health of our community, it is extremely important that you stay home if you have symptoms of the flu or any other contagious illness.

MIT is a place where persevering through hardship to get the job done is common practice. However, in the public-health situation we are facing, the most valuable thing you can do for the extended family of MIT is to stay home if you are sick. Staff members who are experiencing flu-like symptoms should not come to work, and students who have symptoms should not attend classes, social gatherings or other campus events.

Managers, professors and department heads are expected to support your decision to stay home in order to protect others, and they are being asked to plan for this.

How MIT is monitoring the situation
MIT has an Emergency Operations Center (EOC), which pulls together resources from various Institute groups to plan for how the Institute will manage public-health and other large-scale emergencies. EOC members have worked on issues like SARS, convened during the recent norovirus outbreak at Babson College, and examined the steps to be taken in the event MIT experiences a major flu outbreak. The EOC is actively monitoring the current situation.

At this time, Institute events, classes and exams will continue as scheduled. The Institute is closely monitoring H1N1 flu developments and will make adjustments as needed. In the meantime, please visit the MIT Medical website at http://medweb.mit.edu and the MIT Emergency homepage at http://emergency.mit.net for updates and resources, including a set of FAQs. Please also ensure that your emergency contact information is up to date by visiting the "MIT Alert" link on the Emergency homepage.

Up-to-date national and local information is available from the CDC (http://www.cdc.gov/swineflu) and the state's public health blog (http://publichealth.blog.state.ma.us).

As you go about your life at MIT in the coming days and weeks, please take care of yourself: Eat properly, get rest, manage your stress levels and practice proper hygiene.

If you have specific questions or concerns about H1N1 flu not addressed by the websites listed above, please contact MIT Medical by calling its main number, 617-253-4481, or by emailing comments-fluinfo@mit.edu.

Sincerely,

Kirk D. Kolenbrander
Vice President for Institute Affairs and Secretary of the Corporation


Topics: Health sciences and technology, Administration, Cambridge, Boston and region, Campus services, Faculty, Staff, Students

Back to the top