Aroostook County colleges free from H1N1

Posted Nov. 06, 2009, at 7:07 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:38 a.m.

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Although H1N1 has been confirmed in all counties of Maine and has struck students hard on some college campuses across the state, Aroostook County colleges so far have no confirmed cases of swine flu.

Officials at the University of Maine at Presque Isle, Northern Maine Community College and the University of Maine at Fort Kent said Friday that no one on campus has come down with the illness.

At UMFK, Terry Kelly, director of university relations and alumni affairs, said students have been “bombarded with information” about H1N1 and how to avoid it.

“We have posters up everywhere,” he said Friday. “We have information out there telling students to wash their hands, stay home if they are sick, to avoid infecting others, and more. We have had a couple of scares, but no cases confirmed here.”

Tamara Mitchell, executive director of UMFK, is the point person for coordinating the H1N1 response on campus. She said Friday that a number of high-risk students at UMFK have been vaccinated against the disease. Two students had flulike symptoms, she said, but they did not turn out to be H1N1.

The story was much the same at NMCC.

“As of today, there have been no cases,” Jason Parent, NMCC’s director of development and college relations said Friday afternoon. “But we have informed our students about the disease and all of the precautions they should take.”

The college has received a limited amount of the vaccine. It was offered first to students who live in NMCC residence halls.

“We also have sent out letters to all of our allied health students and our early education students, encouraging them to get vaccinated,” he said. “Those students are doing their practicums in health care facilities and day care centers, so they are interacting with a large population and should be vaccinated.”

Maine CDC officials said Friday that among public schools in Aroostook County, only Bridgewater and St. Francis are reporting widespread absenteeism because of influenzalike symptoms. Cases of H1N1 have not been confirmed. No other schools have a large number of students with suspicious symptoms.

While H1N1 vaccines are available in the state, the numbers are well below what officials would like to see, according to Maine CDC officials. By the end of the week, the state will have received a total of 139,000 doses of swine flu vaccine, enough for only one in five people in high-priority groups.

Officials said they could not say when more vaccine would trickle into The County. So far, only 6,600 County residents have been vaccinated against H1N1.

Over the past two weeks, H1N1 has become widespread in Maine. The Maine CDC said Friday that this past week, 25 schools have had high absentee rates and 10 people have been hospitalized, including four children.

On Friday, the Maine CDC announced that a Penobscot County young adult died as a result of H1N1 influenza. The man had serious underlying medical conditions, according to Dora Anne Mills, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

At UMPI, the school has seen no confirmed cases of the swine flu, but several students have exhibited flulike symptoms,” said Linda Mastro, director of the UMPI health center.

“We do not have a large population of students that are sick,” she said. “But we have had some suspicious cases. The CDC has asked us to treat these just like confirmed cases, so that is what we are doing.”

Mastro noted that it takes 48 to 72 hours for H1N1 to be confirmed.

Christine Corsello, dean of students at UMPI, said Friday that the school is asking ill students to “self-isolate.”

“If they live in the residence halls and can go home, we would like them to,” she said. “If they are commuters, we tell them to stay home. If they have to stay in the residence halls, we are asking them to stay put in the rooms. We also have some empty spaces to quarantine students if we have to, but we have not had to use them.”

Similar protocols are in place at UMFK, according to Mitchell. While UMFK has isolation rooms, they have not had to put any students in them.

Corsello said information on preventing H1N1 is spread out across the entire Presque Isle campus.

“We really started putting it out in April, and we continue to do so,” said Corsello.

Mitchell said UMFK is hoping the information and the protocols in place will help prevent the spread of the disease, if it occurs on campus.

“We have been preparing for this for some time,” she said. “We have been talking to other campuses in the UMaine system and we have learned a lot from them. We are optimistic about a good outcome.”

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