Mason Hosts Town Hall Meeting on H1N1 with Sebelius, Duncan

Posted: September 23, 2009 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: September 22, 2009 at 4:21 pm

By Robin Herron

At the town hall on stage are from left. Photo by Nicolas Tan

At the town hall on stage are, from left: Dev Dasgupta, Mason student body president; Kathleen Sebelius, DHHS secretary; Lisa Barrios, branch chief, CDC; and Arne Duncan, Department of Education secretary. Photo by Nicolas Tan

“What to Do about the Flu,” a town hall meeting with U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan was held at Mason on Sept. 22. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss with students and faculty how to prepare for flu season and reduce the spread of the H1N1 virus.

Also attending with the secretaries was Lisa Barrios of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Mason student body President Dev Dasgupta moderated the discussion.

At the meeting, the winner of the national 2009 H1N1 PSA Contest was also announced, and the winning video, featuring “the hip hop doctor,” John D. Clarke, was shown.

Although Mason and other Washington, D.C., area universities have so far seen only small outbreaks of the flu, other areas of the country have been hard hit already, and the officials stressed that academic communities need to be prepared.

They urged college students, many of whom are in the high-risk group of those age 6 months to 24 years old, to get both the seasonal flu vaccine, which is now available, and the H1N1 vaccine when it becomes available in about two weeks.

[At Mason, Student Health Services has already begun seasonal flu vaccinations. See the SHS web site for the schedule.]

Wagida Abdalla, director of Mason's Student Health Services, shakes hands with Sebelius. At center is Shirley Travis, dean of the College of Health and Human Services. Photo by Nicolas Tan

Wagida Abdalla, director of Mason's Student Health Services, shakes hands with Sebelius after the town hall. At center is Shirley Travis, dean of the College of Health and Human Services. Photo by Nicolas Tan

In a university environment, especially in residence halls where students have close contact with one another, the officials said that the key to avoid getting the flu is to practice good hygiene such as washing hands frequently and covering coughs and sneezes.

If one does get sick, the best option to keep the flu from spreading is to isolate the infected person as much as possible.

Those who are ill with H1N1 will most likely have a fever, cough, sore throat and body aches, Barrios said. Sometimes vomiting and diarrhea will accompany the flu. Most cases last two to four days. However, if a fever goes away and then comes back or if the patient is extremely lethargic after a few days, a physician should be consulted, she said.

Sebelius also warned against taking antiviral medicines such as Tamiflu as a preventive. It will not prevent the flu and could even lessen immunity if the flu is later contracted, she said.

To see a broadcast of the town hall meeting, and for more information on H1N1, go to the www.flu.gov web site.

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