By Matt GriesmyerH1N1 influenza, commonly known as swine flu, is quickly becoming a very prevalent issue of conversation.
As of press time for the publication of this article, there were 109 laboratory confirmed cases of the flu infection in the United States, with the only confirmed death from the virus happening in Texas; so far none have been reported on or near the University Houston-Clear Lake campus. The number of reported cases, however, are growing quickly.
Susan Prihoda, director of health and disability services at UHCL, as well as a family nurse practitioner, explained what would happen if even one person became infected on campus.
“If there is a confirmed case of swine flu, the Texas Department of Health will close the campus down,” Prihoda said.
The World Health Organization has an alertness classification system in place for similar situations. Arranged from phase one through six involving the development and spread of a virus, and two phases following those involving the post-peak and post-pandemic alertness levels. The WHO, the directing authority for health within the United Nations, has raised the alertness level of the swine flu outbreak from phase four to phase five, meaning the pandemic is imminent.
Deb Blakely, assistant professor of communication at UHCL as well as a published author of “Mass Mediated Disease,” a book analyzing three major pandemics and how the media covered them, explains what would classify the current situation as a pandemic, and consequently a WHO phase six alert.
“Rates of infection and the spread of infection,” Blakely said. “With a pandemic, it typically means that many countries are involved. You have to have epidemics within several countries to be classified as a pandemic.”
Students are being advised to maintain preventative measures to ensure the health of the area.
Prihoda said that the methods people need to use to prevent getting sick are all about prevention of infection.
“We already know the virus is here,” Prihoda said. “Start with essential handwashing technique, use antibacterial hand gel if you cannot wash your hands often, and stay away from sick people.”
Should a student feel ill and have flu-like symptoms, students are advised to stay away from campus and visit a doctor. The office of campus health and disability services at UHCL is prepared to test, in certain situations, for swine flu.
The symptoms of swine flu are no different than any other influenza strain. Running a fever, body aches, sore throat, congestion and runny nose are common symptoms, with the key characteristic being the fever. The incubation period for swine flu is 24 to 48 hours, with the illness lasting an average of five days.
UHCL is taking measures to prepare the university in case of confirmed infection. The university has put into place a risk management team to analyze all potential problems and situations involving swine flu, arranging university-level responses for each. Anthony Jenkins, dean of students at UHCL is on the risk management team. “We are looking at contingency plans,” Jenkins said. “We are trying to think through every scenario possible and put in place something that will help us be proactive and reactive to that situation.”
Situations that are still under analysis include finals, summer classes and commencement. If there is any update in the information regarding classes being held, students will be notified by email. Also, students can check the UHCL home Web page for updates.
A common idea shared by Jenkins, Prihoda and Blakely is to stay calm, but stay informed and aware.
Throughout these times it can be easy to become too inundated with hype produced by other sources that the facts can become muddled.
The most reliable sources for information involving the swine flu are the Web sites of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention the World Health Organization at www.cdc.gov and www.who.int, respectively.
Preparations for the potential swine flu pandemic are similar to hurricane procedures. Collect enough water and food for two weeks and keep vehicles topped off with gasoline. Also, keep cash money on hand in preparation of bank closures. Should the situation occur in which certain city facilities become shut down, it is important to be prepared.