Colleges and universities prepare for swine flu

Colleges and universities prepare for swine flu

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SALT LAKE CITY -- College campuses are preparing for what could be a bad season for the H1N1 virus this fall. If and when the swine flu breaks out again, they want to be ready.

A task force at the University of Utah meets weekly to talk about the H1N1 virus and how to prepare.

"Plan for the worst, hope for the best and deal with what you get," said Marty Shaub, director of environmental health and safety at the university. "It's a matter of choosing where to invest your resources."

Shaub says the university is focusing on four major categories:

  1. Public education
  2. Managing the impact of student illness
  3. Managing the impact of employee absenteeism
  4. Vaccination delivery

Shaub says when it comes to public education about the swine flu, the university is focused on prevention, good hygiene practices, and how to interrupt rapid transmission.

"The higher education population is that target audience that public health officials are concerned about," she said.

One issue is getting and keeping supplies of hand sanitizer, face masks and medicines.

"When do you start investing so you can get a stockpile? How long can you keep a stockpile and have it still be good for your uses? Where do you keep it? Space is a premium," she said.

Shaub says a major problem with a flu virus and a college campus is that college-aged people often think they are invincible, not all practice good hygiene, and they are all so close to each other. Plus many don't want to miss class, and neither do professors.

"There's a drive in a university student. Attaining that degree is a goal. The same stress and the same drive resides in the heart and mind of a faculty member," Shaub explained.

"That's a challenge also, to get folks OK with an alternative means of getting class work as opposed to going to class when you're ill," she said.

Shaub says they have technology now that allows students to miss class if they need to be quarantined. Perhaps it's a camera in a classroom sending a feed to a student with a laptop, or it's professors using webcasts or archives online.

If a faculty member becomes ill, perhaps a peer could stand in for a lecture. "Our student wellness group on campus has a program called ‘Don't Cancel Class,'" says Shaub.

It includes a list of ready-prepared topics that are available so someone can stand in for a faculty member.

The university is working on ways to manage employee illness as well, and keeping the institution running in the face of a major outbreak.

Shaub says the state health department has been meeting for about two years with representatives from Utah's colleges and universities to formulate plans.

Vaccination distribution is also high on the priority list. The CDC says it has raised the recommended age cutoff for the vaccine from 18 to 24 in order to limit the impact and spread of the virus.


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Mary Richards


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