H1N1 Frequently Asked Questions

General FAQs

1. What is H1N1 (swine flu) and how is it different from seasonal flu?
H1N1 was first detected in people in the United States in April 2009. Lab tests originally indicated similarities to flu viruses that occur in pigs. But further study has shown that it is more complex. Symptoms are similar to regular seasonal flu, but certain groups—people under age 25, pregnant women, and people with chronic diseases such as asthma or diabetes—have proved more vulnerable to H1N1.

2. What are the symptoms?
H1N1 symptoms are very similar to seasonal flu. They include fever over 100 °F or chills and coughing or sore throat. Other symptoms can include headache, muscle and joint pain, runny nose, body ache, vomiting, and diarrhea.

3. How dangerous is H1N1?
Symptoms range from mild to severe, and in rare cases the disease can be fatal. The CDC notes that 70 percent of infected people who require hospitalization are in a high-risk group prone to serious seasonal flu-related complications. This group includes people who are pregnant or suffer from diabetes, heart disease, asthma, or kidney disease. You should go to the hospital if you have difficulty breathing, experience pain or pressure in your chest or abdomen, or experience sudden dizziness or confusion. Other danger signs are persistent vomiting or the return of flu-like symptoms after you improve.

4. How do people get H1N1 and how long does it last?
Having an infected person sneezing or coughing on you is the greatest threat to getting the flu. You can also get sick by touching a contaminated surface such as a countertop or doorknob, and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes. People are sick anywhere from one to seven days, requiring them to miss school or work.

5. What should I do to prevent contracting H1N1?
Practice good hygiene. Wash your hands often; use hand sanitizer to lower your risk. If you’re caring for an ill friend or relative, make sure that they don’t cough or sneeze on you. Having them wear a mask can help. Try to maintain a distance of six feet or more from an infected person whenever possible.

6. How do I keep from spreading it?
If you have the flu, don’t sneeze or cough on other people. Cover up with a tissue or cough into your sleeve. If you’re about to sneeze or cough, turn away from people you are near. Be sure to dispose of tissues after you use them, and wash your hands frequently.

7. What do I do if I have these symptoms?
Do not return to work or classes while you have H1N1 symptoms. If you have flu-like symptoms (fever over 100 °F and cough or sore throat) and are not in a high-risk category, you should practice self-isolation.

If you have flu-like symptoms and do not have underlying health conditions (i.e., asthma, a suppressed immune system, chronic illnesses), you should self-isolate, get plenty of rest, drink plenty of fluids, and follow recommendations on the CDC H1N1 Web site.

If your condition deteriorates (e.g., fever does not improve, you experience difficulty breathing, sore throat worsens) you should visit the Student Health Center or your primary medical provider.

If you have flu-like symptoms and have an underlying health condition, seek medical treatment.


If diagnosed, stay home, keep at least six feet away from others as much as possible (self-isolate), and take measures to keep from spreading the virus. Stay home at least 24 hours after your fever is gone. Be sure that period is after you stopped using fever-reducing medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Take your temperature at least five times during a 24-hour period to confirm that your fever has gone. Follow instructions if your doctor prescribes fever-reducing medications or an antiviral drug such as Tamiflu.

For more information on how to care for yourself, click here.

8. When will an H1N1 vaccine be available on campus? How will the vaccine be distributed?
The HIN1 vaccine should be available on campus during the third or fourth week of October. We will distribute the vaccine at no charge on campus in accordance with the following priority groups established by the CDC:

  • pregnant women
  • household and caregiver contacts of children younger than 6 months of age
  • health-care and emergency medical services personnel with direct patient contact
  • children from 6 months through 18 years of age
  • young adults 19 through 24 years of age
  • persons aged 25 through 64 who have health conditions associated with higher risk of medical complications from influenza

Remaining vaccine will be distributed to the campus community after the priority groups have received the vaccination.

We will announce vaccination procedures closer to the time of distribution on Today@AU and the H1N1 page.

9. Should I get vaccinated against H1N1 if I have had flu-like illness since spring 2009?
The short answer is yes, according to the CDC. Seasonal flu symptoms resemble those caused by H1N1 and other viruses.

If you were ill but do not know if you had H1N1 infection, you should get vaccinated, if your doctor recommends it. If you have had H1N1 flu, as confirmed by an RT-PCR test, you should have some immunity against H1N1 flu and can choose not to get the vaccine. However, vaccinating a person with some existing immunity to H1N1 virus will not be harmful. For more information on flu tests, see Influenza Diagnostic Testing During the 2009-2010 Flu Season.

10. What is the university doing to reduce the risk associated with contaminated surfaces?
The university is continuing normal cleaning protocols on surfaces such as door knobs, which is an effective way to deal with the H1N1 virus. AU has also placed hand sanitizer stations around campus and is monitoring them carefully to make sure they remain full. Additional cleaning routines will be added if needed.

11. Is it possible that the university would cancel classes and close the campus due to H1N1?
American University’s Emergency Response Team and the President’s Cabinet have made extensive plans to cover as many contingencies as possible. It is the university’s hope that we will not have to close during this academic year. In the unlikely event that face-to-face teaching becomes impossible, faculty members will use Blackboard as a virtual extension of the classroom.

12. Will the university announce individual, confirmed cases of H1N1 on campus?
The university does not announce each case. Every Monday we list the number of students, faculty, and staff who reported flu-like symptoms during the week ending the previous Friday. This information can be found on the university’s H1N1 page at www.american.edu/h1n1.

13. How many cases of H1N1 have been reported at other colleges and universities in the region?
For updates, check the American College Health Association’s most recent list, or the D.C. Health Department.

Student FAQs

1. If I get sick, should I go home?
If you live in the area and have someone who can take you home, that is the best option.

If you do not live on campus and need to travel by public transportation, please use a face mask.

If you live on campus follow the recommendations below:

If you have flu-like symptoms and do not have underlying health conditions (i.e., asthma, a suppressed immune system, chronic illnesses), you should self-isolate, get plenty of rest, drink plenty of fluids, and follow recommendations on the CDC H1N1 Web site.

If you have flu-like symptoms and have an underlying health condition, seek medical treatment.

If your condition deteriorates (fever does not improve, you experience difficulty breathing, sore throat worsens) you should visit the Student Health Center or your primary medical provider.

If the Student Health Center is closed overnight or on a weekend, call the nurse advice line at 1-866-900-7162 and let the nurse know that you are calling from American University. This service is available to students who live on or off campus. Follow the advice provided by the nurse advice line.

If you live on campus and the nurse advice line recommends that you go to the Emergency Room, call Public Safety at 202-885-3636 to get a taxi voucher for Sibley Hospital. Sibley will provide you with a voucher back to campus.

If you are off campus and experiencing an emergency, call 911.

2. Are sick students being quarantined?
No. Residence halls are at capacity, and so there is no room to quarantine sick students. Quarantine in other buildings is possible if a severe outbreak occurs. You can stay in a friend’s room until your roommate does not have a fever for 24 hours. Temporary mattresses are available.

3. If I get sick and have to self-isolate, how can I get food?
Make a plan now. If you live off campus, stock up on soups, water, and juices in case you contract the flu. Identify friends or neighbors who can drop off things you may need.

If you live on campus: Do not visit dining facilities. Designate someone to bring you food and beverages, and make sure you ask someone to look in on you periodically. Students can obtain the Meal Plan Authorization Form from the Student Health Center or from their resident director.

4. If my roommate or a family member at home gets sick, what should I do?
Practice good hygiene, keep your distance (at least 6 feet), and watch for symptoms in yourself. You may have been exposed to the virus. For information on how to care for a sick roommate or family member, click here.

5. What is the university’s policy regarding missed class time due to H1N1?
Students should be fever free for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medications before returning to class. Many professors are using Blackboard to assist ill students. Make sure to contact your professor to arrange to make up work or exams.

6. How can I prove I missed classes because I was sick?
Notify your professors that you will not be in class because you are sick. Faculty will be flexible and prepared to help you make up the work when you return to class. Contact your academic advisor to inform him or her that you will not be in class due to your illness.

Faculty & Staff FAQs

1. If I’m sick, whom should I contact?
Contact your supervisor or Carol Edwards in HR at x2589.

2. If family members get sick, may I stay home to care for them?
AU has liberalized its leave policy to create a flu leave bank to help employees who have too little sick leave to stay home. Eligible employees may draw from this "community sick leave pool" to cover absences due to flu whether it's for themselves or to care for their family members.

Staff members may donate sick leave days to the flu leave bank. The liberalized policy will be in effect for the 2009–2010 academic year only.

3. If classes can’t meet, how can I continue my classroom instruction?
The Center for Teaching, Research and Learning (CTRL) oversees the university’s online learning software—Blackboard. Eighty-four percent of faculty have trained on how to use Blackboard, and the rest are being trained. If you need additional training contact, CTRL at x2117. Online teaching support is available at www.american.edu/provost/ctrl/teachingonline.cfm.

4. How will I know if a student is missing class because of the flu?
Students are asked to notify their professors and academic advisors of their condition via phone or e-mail. The Student Health Center will notify the Dean of Students and Housing and Dining of students diagnosed with flu-like symptoms.

5. What if a sick student insists on coming to class?
Be mindful that not all symptoms (sneezing and coughing) are related to communicable diseases. Be cognizant of a student’s right(s) to privacy regarding his or her medical condition(s). Have private discussions with students exhibiting flu-like symptoms and recommend they visit the Student Health Center. Mention that the CDC recommends those with flu-like illness stay home for at least 24 hours after fever is gone and keep away from others to keep from making others sick. Encourage them to practice good hygiene—cover nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing, and avoid close contact with others.