Combating flu, UI builds supply of hand sanitizers

BY SAM LANE | OCTOBER 14, 2009 7:30 AM

A handy precaution

The order placed by Johnson County includes the following products:

• Wall-Mounted Dispensers: 200
• Mobile Dispensers: 150
• Dispenser Refills: 1,600
• 16.9 oz Sanitizer Pumps: 2,400
• "Clean Your Hands," message reversible with "Cover your Cough" message, oak display with Wall-Mounted Touch-Free Dispenser: 20

Source: Tom Moore

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UI students have undoubtedly noticed the growing presence of hand sanitizer stations on campus.

And the number of sanitizer stations will only increase in coming weeks, UI officials said. In fact, students will find these liquid-filled dispensers in nearly every university building that sees high student traffic, including the IMU, Kinnick Stadium, and larger UI classrooms, said Lisa James, the administrative director at Student Health Service.

“Normally, we don’t supply hand sanitizers in a broad way on campus, but individual departments — a health setting like [Student Health], for example — often obtain their own,” James said in an e-mail.

Officials say this year’s novel influenza season is the main reason for the increase in hand sanitizers.

“The H1N1 concern is the driving force behind the expansion of the availability of hand sanitizer on campus,” UI spokesman Tom Moore said.

The Iowa Department of Public Health has supported the university and county’s efforts through a grant to purchase larger quantities of hand sanitizer, he said.

Last week, the Johnson County Public Health Department placed an order on behalf of the UI for a market value of roughly $90,000 in hand-sanitizing products.

The order includes such products as mounted and mobile touch-free hand sanitizer dispensers and pump style hand sanitizers.

Other Iowa schools, including Iowa State University, have taken similar approaches in preventing the spread of illness this fall.

Michelle Hendricks, the director of Student Health at ISU, said hand sanitizer stations have been in place since the beginning of the year. ISU has included sanitizers in its Memorial Union as well as large lecture halls, she said.

“We’ve had impressive numbers,” Hendricks said about ISU students’ use of the hand sanitizers. “I asked students if they’ve seen the hand sanitizer stations, and their answers were encouraging. There was a strong response.”

UI medical officer Dan Fick said having sanitizers on campus is important.

“A misconception is that respiratory viruses spread through coughing,” he said. “It’s actually from putting your [contaminated] fingers near your eyes, ears, nose, or mouth.”

UI officials won’t see the true effectiveness of the sanitizer stations until next spring, when this year’s influenza season is analyzed, Fick said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hand sanitizers shouldn’t be a substitute for soap and water.

Officials and students are unsure if the dispensers and sanitizers will make a difference in students’ health.

Ian Tugwell-Nilausen works for UI parking and deals with 200 to 300 customers a day. While the UI sophomore said he thinks the H1N1 situation is “overly hyped,” he does use the sanitizer he’s provided.

“I hope it’s keeping me healthy,” he said with a chuckle.

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