Health Services

Avian Flu and Pandemic Flu

This site provides current information about avian (bird) flu and pandemic flu, what preparations are being made at Butler University and links to other resources. Consult this site frequently for updates on avian and pandemic influenza, travel advisories, Butler University policies, and other information.

Avian flu type H5N1 is a virulent viral disease affecting poultry and other birds in Asia. It is also called "bird flu." It has caused a small number of cases of flu and even some deaths in people who have been in direct contact with infected birds. No cases of sustained human-to-human transmission have been established as of January 2006; however, scientists are concerned that the avian flu virus may mutate and become transmissible between humans. Avian flu virus has not been found in the U.S.

Every year, usually between December and May, between 5% and 20% of the population in the U.S. become ill with the flu, or influenza. This is the normal course of seasonal flu with which we have become accustomed. It can cause serious illness and even death in the very young, the elderly and other individuals with impaired resistance and chronic illnesses. For this reason, everyone should get a flu shot unless your health care provider advises you otherwise. See below for more information on getting a flu shot.

In 1918, 1957, and 1968 the flu season in the U.S. was especially severe, and resulted in a much higher number of illnesses and deaths. This more dangerous form is called pandemic flu. Public health experts believe that a flu pandemic is likely to occur again in the future. Scientists worry that a mutant form of avian flu, under certain circumstances, could eventually cause a flu pandemic- although this scenario may never happen.

It is prudent to learn about flu prevention, get a flu shot, wash your hands often, and follow travel and public health advisories.

What is the Flu?

The flu, or influenza, is a respiratory illness caused by airborne viruses that spread from person-to-person by droplets from coughing or sneezing. The period between becoming infected with the virus and becoming ill is usually one to four days. The contagious period is three to five days from the onset of symptoms. Symptoms of the flu, or influenza:

  • Fever (up to 104 degrees) and sweating/chills
  • Headache, muscle aches and/or stiffness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Vomiting and nausea (in children)

A cold and flu are alike in many ways. A stuffy nose, sore throat and sneezing are usually signs of a cold. "Stomach flu" is not really the flu, as there are no respiratory symptoms. Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea without the fever, cough, aching and respiratory symptoms is actually gastroenteritis, but some people call it "stomach flu." This form is caused by other microorganisms and has no relationship to true influenza.

How Flu Spreads

Flu viruses spread in respiratory droplets caused by coughing and sneezing. They usually spread from close person-to-person contact, though sometimes people become infected by touching something with flu viruses on it and then touching their mouth, eyes or nose. The virus can live for as long as two hours on surfaces like doorknobs, desks and tables.

Healthy adults, infected with the virus, may be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to five days after becoming sick. That means that you can pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick.

How to Prevent the Flu

While avian flu is not a risk to you at this time, there are several things you can do to keep from getting seasonal flu:

  • Get a flu shot. When you get vaccinated, it reduces your chances of getting seasonal flu. Since the flu season can last through May, even January is not too late to get a flu shot; however, it takes two weeks after the shot to develop adequate immunity.
  • Students, faculty, and staff may get a flu shot at Health Services. Watch for announcements from Health Services regarding when the flu vaccine becomes available.
  • You may also be able to get flu shots with your private doctor or through a health agency in the Indianapolis area.
  • Wash your hands often and well.

Hand washing is effective in preventing the flu, cold and other infectious diseases. According to the U.S Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), rubbing your hands together with soap and water is one of the most important ways to prevent infection. Disease-causing germs can enter your body when your unwashed hands touch your nose, eyes, mouth, and open wounds. Make hand washing a habit and encourage others in your workplace to do the same by downloading and posting Indiana's Hand Washing Posters. When soap and water are not available, use an antibacterial hand cleaner. Choose alcohol hand rubs with 60 - 95% alcohol (usually listed as isopropyl ethanol or propanol). Glycerol or other skin conditioning agents are helpful additives. Read the directions and use the hand rub appropriately. Never wipe the hand rub off; allow your hands to air dry. When used properly, these sanitizers reduce the transmission of disease-causing germs.

Other Ways to Prevent the Flu Include

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth;
  • Cover your mouth with tissue when sneezing;
  • Stay away from others if you are sick; don't go to class or work;
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

Get Help If You Are Sick

If you develop symptoms of the flu, contact your health-care provider. They will advise you what you need to do for your illness. They may ask you to come to the office to be seen. If symptoms are severe you may be advised to go to the nearest emergency room. There may be medications to relieve your symptoms. Get plenty of rest, drink lots of liquids, and avoid using alcohol and tobacco.

The flu can be debilitating, causing the person who is ill to be bedridden for extended periods. Be alert to the well being of your friends, relatives, and co-workers. Those with the flu may need assistance in getting medical attention and care.

If you are at special risk from complications of flu, you should consult your health care provider immediately upon recognizing flu symptoms. Those at risk include people 65 years or older, people with chronic medical conditions, or immunosuppressed, pregnant women, or children.

If You Travel Internationally

As of May 2009 there are no international travel restrictions as a result of avian or H1N1 flu. If you travel to a country where either flu is present, avoid poultry farms and open air markets where poultry is sold for avian flu. Eating pork or pork products does not cause the H1N1 flu.

The World Health Organization (WHO), the CDC and the U.S. Department of State issue travel information, alert, warnings and announcements for public safety, personal security and health issues. Before you travel internationally please consult the sites below. WHO, CDC and State Department advisories are updated often and may differ. When they differ, Butler University recommends erring on the side of caution by following the most conservative advice. If an area has a travel advisory or warning in effect, the safest decision is not to travel unless it is absolutely necessary.
For more international travel health information, see:

  • U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) health information and recommendations for travel to specific destinations
  • U.S. Department of State Current Travel Warnings
  • Currently, WHO does not recommend screening travelers from countries where avian flu is present

If you have recently lived in, or traveled from, an area where avian or H1N1 flu is present and you now have a fever, headache, muscle aches or respiratory symptoms, you should call a health care provider and ask for instructions. Students, faculty, and staff can call Butler Health Services at (317) 940-9385 and ask to speak with a nurse prior to visiting the clinic.

For More Information About Seasonal Flu and Pandemic Flu

Julie Howerton
Health Services Director
Butler University
Indianapolis, IN 46208
(317) 940-9385
(317) 940-6403 FAX