So We’ve Dodged the Pandemic Bullet… or Have We?

As this issue goes to print, everyone is breathing easier now that the H1N1 influenza virus appears to not be as deadly as we had initially feared. Still, it would be wise for everyone to remain vigilant.

Historians and pandemic influenza experts are quick to remind us that like today’s H1N1 virus – commonly known as swine flu – the 1918 pandemic flu started out quietly in the spring of that year. Few deaths were reported during its first stage. When the virus resurfaced in the fall, however, it was much more severe. In less than two years, an estimated 50 million people died, and more than 25 percent of the U.S. population was affected. Approximately 675,000 Americans lost their lives.

I recently spoke with Safe Havens International COO Dr. Sony Shepherd about this subject. According to this former CDC pandemic flu planner, what is so disturbing about H1N1 is the fact that, like the virus that surfaced in 1918, no humans are immune to it, and last year’s flu shot will not protect us.

The fact that most of the swine flu victims have been young, otherwise healthy, adults also worries experts. “The challenge with H1N1 is that unlike the seasonal flu, which normally affects the elderly and really young, H1N1 is affecting those people with pretty strong immune systems,” she says. This is another similarity to the 1918 pandemic outbreak.

Dr. Shepherd says the virus could taper off or get stronger… and cause many more deaths. “It’s always a possibility, and that’s why public health officials aren’t going to be complacent about it,” she adds. “We just don’t know what it’s going to do.”

She recommends campuses take the following steps, if they haven’t done so already:

  • Create or review your pandemic flu plan and identify which officials are responsible for activating it
  • Educate your community about common sense hygiene that can prevent the spread of disease: washing hands; covering your mouth when coughing; and staying home from school or work when you are sick
  • Address continuity of operations should the campus be closed for a significant amount of time
  • Stock up on infection prevention supplies (cleaning supplies)
  • Develop a process with the public health department on how to report absenteeism
  • Have policies in place outlining how and when to isolate students if they become ill
  • Have policies in place outlining when students who have recovered can return to school
  • Heed the advice of organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization
  • Don’t purchase masks. They won’t prevent the spread of H1N1

 

Even if the H1N1 virus remains relatively mild, these steps will ensure your campus will be prepared when the next pandemic scare comes knocking on our door. Who knows? Next time it could be the big one.

Note: Helpful links on this topic can be found at www.campussafetymagazine.com/PandemicFlu.

Tags: emergency management

About the Author

Robin Hattersley Gray
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Robin has been covering the security and campus law enforcement industries since 1998 and is a specialist in school, university and hospital security, public safety and emergency management, as well as emerging technologies and systems integration. She joined CS in 2005 and has authored award-winning editorial on campus law enforcement and security funding, officer recruitment and retention, access control, IP video, network integration, event management, crime trends, the Clery Act, Title IX compliance, sexual assault, dating abuse, emergency communications, incident management software and more. Robin has been featured on national and local media outlets and was formerly associate editor for the trade publication Security Sales & Integration. She obtained her undergraduate degree in history from California State University, Long Beach.

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