H1N1 Employee Exposure Facts

Updated Information, May 6, 2009

Note: Previous CDC protocol advised employees to self isolate for 48 hours due to possible exposure. The CDC protocol for possible exposure to the H1N1 virus has changed. The information below has been updated to reflect the new protocol.

How Can Someone With The H1N1 Virus Infect Someone Else?

Droplets from a cough or sneeze of an infected person move through the air and may infect other persons in close proximity. The H1N1 virus may also spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth. Some viruses and bacteria can live 2 hours or longer on surfaces like cafeteria tables, doorknobs, keyboards, telephones and desks.

Once exposed, it generally takes 48 hours for a person to experience symptoms. Infected people may be able to infect others beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and should be considered potentially contagious as long as they are symptomatic and possibly for up to 7 days following illness onset. Persons with compromised immune systems and children, especially younger children, may be potentially contagious for 7 – 10 days.

What If There Is A Possible Exposure To The H1N1 Virus?

Employees should watch for symptoms if they have:

  1. Been in close contact (within 6 feet) of a person who is ill with observable flu-like symptoms or with someone who has a confirmed case of H1N1 virus during that person’s infectious period; or,
  2. Traveled to or resides in an area where there are confirmed cases of the H1N1 virus.

Employees with possible exposures should watch for symptoms of the virus. If symptoms occur, employees should notify their supervisor and seek medical help immediately.

What If An Employee, Customer, or Client Has Symptoms Of The H1N1 Virus?

As incidents of confirmed H1N1 virus infections are reported, it is reasonable to expect there may be some incidents of exposure in the workplace. While there is no set of actions that can provide complete protection, a combination of steps may be taken to decrease the likelihood of transmission of the virus.

If an employee, customer or client appears to have flu-like symptoms, the individual should be directed to go home immediately and self-isolate in order to keep from spreading the virus to others. In approaching the individual, employees should avoid or limit close or physical contact. Following the contact, the employee should wash their hands with soap and water or use alcohol-based hand gels (containing at least 60% alcohol) when soap and water are not available according to the protocol provided by Campus Safety and Security.

Additionally, door knobs, keyboards, telephones, counter-tops and other work surfaces which infected individuals may have come into contact with should be disinfected with a university approved disinfectant. Units should contact Dennis Nolan in Environmental Health and Safety for specific guidance on disinfecting surfaces and equipment. His number is 232-4999.

Watching for Symptoms and Self Isolation

Employees who may have been exposed to a confirmed person with H1N1 or from an area with confirmed cases of H1N1 are strongly encouraged to do the following:

  • A person with no symptoms: Watch for symptoms. Self isolate and seek medical care if symptoms appear.
  • A person with symptoms of H1N1 virus: Self isolate for 7 days after the onset of the illness or 24 hours after the symptoms have been resolved, whichever is longer.

Persons who become ill and wish to seek medical care should contact their health care providers to report illness and to determine if they need to be seen. Persons who have difficulty breathing or shortness of breath or are believed to be severely ill should seek immediate medical attention.

If persons must go into the community (e.g., to seek medical care) they should wear a face mask to reduce the risk of spreading the virus in the community when they cough, sneeze, talk or breathe. If a face mask is unavailable, ill persons should use a handkerchief or tissues to cover any coughing.

Persons in self- isolation and their household members should follow infection control instructions:

  • Frequent hand washing with soap and water or alcohol-based hand gels (containing at least 60% alcohol)
  • When the ill person is within 6 feet of others at home, the ill person should wear a face mask as noted above
  • Throw away any tissues used
  • Avoid kissing and the sharing of eating utensils, drinks, smokes
  • Frequent cleaning of surfaces where respiratory droplets could have landed—desks, tables, chairs, phones, computers, etc.