Posted by: rcieri | August 2, 2009

Elon University prepares response measures for swine flu threat

Information courtesy of the World Health Organization

Information courtesy of the World Health Organization

by Rachel Cieri, April 28, 2009

Reacting to more than 40 cases appearing across the country, Elon University officials are taking precautionary measures in case the swine flu hits campus.

The emergency response team and safety committee met Monday to review plans to deal with the threat of a pandemic. The university prepared pandemic response plans more than three years ago in response to a similar bird flu scare.

The R.N. Ellington Health Center is also taking a few precautions, although staff said the community is not at any immediate risk. Students who experience flu-like symptoms can come to the health center for evaluation, and they will be asked to wear a surgical mask in the waiting room to prevent the virus from spreading.

Flu test results will also be sent to the local and state health departments for monitoring.
ARAMARK will also take extra precautionary steps in handling food to prevent the spread of disease in dining halls.

According to Assistant Vice President for Student Life Jana Lynn Patterson, the university has made arrangements with local health authorities to have medications delivered to Elon should an outbreak occur.

“We don’t have to worry about getting 5,000 people to the health department,” Patterson said.
If an outbreak of the swine flu does occur on campus, the university will be following direction from the state and local health authorities to take the proper response steps.

“If there is a case anywhere in North Carolina, we’ll escalate our surveillance,” Patterson said. “(The swine flu) seems to be hopping around the country with no natural progression, which is perplexing. When students come to health services, we’ll ask them if they’ve traveled to Mexico or Kansas recently, and if they’ve flown.”

Elon health services has been a leader in the state in developing precautionary measures and response preparations, Patterson said.

The level of threat posed to the campus is still uncertain as officials gauge the disease’s impact and spread.

A mutation of an animal influenza strain, swine flu is defined by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention as respiratory disease of pigs. Until last month, only 12 cases of the disease had been documented in humans in the United States during the past four years, but a recent lethal outbreak in Mexico is causing international alarm.

The World Health Organization said it had “pandemic potential,” and the Department of Homeland Security has declared the outbreak a public health emergency.

The swine flu has health experts concerned because it seems to be passed from human to human, as well as pig to human or pig to pig. While the closest infections are still several states away, the CDC recommends taking a few extra precautions to stay healthy.

Anyone who sneezes or coughs should hold a tissue to his or her mouth and throw the tissue away after using it. Individuals should wash his or her hands frequently and avoid touching one’s eyes, nose or mouth.

People are asked to avoid contact with anyone who is sick and to stay home if they become ill. Anyone with flu-like symptoms should report to the health center for an examination.

The swine flu is not caught by eating pork, a common misconception. The virus is killed like any other germs when the meat is cooked at 160 degrees or higher.

Because the virus can be passed from pigs to humans, areas like pig barns and livestock exhibits with pigs at fairs could be some of the riskiest places in terms of susceptibility.

While there have been more than 100 deaths in Mexico, the toll in the United States has not been nearly so severe. No one has died, and the illness is much like a regular flu.

The main cause for alarm is the sudden spike in numbers of a disease for which there is no vaccination and about which not much is known.

Patterson encourages students to pay attention and not panic.

An outbreak of the Spanish influenza swept the Town of Elon in 1918, according to Durward Stoke’s 1982 book, “Elon College: It’s History and Traditions.”

The book said the sickness hit the university straight on.

Around 300 students were affected, a makeshift hospital with cots was constructed in the gym and the extremely sick were taken to and stayed at the president’s house, the book said.

A student who died from the illness is still buried in Magnolia Cemetary, which is located across from the intramural fields next to the railroad tracks.

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