Nov 012006
 
Authors: HEATHER HAWKINS

Three feet.

It’s one yard in football, the height of an average two-year-old and the distance within which a person could get influenza from the cough or sneeze of another person.

The Pandemic Planning Committee at CSU is working with officials and departments across campus to develop a comprehensive response in the event of a flu pandemic.

It would be a difficult challenge if people on campus had to stay three feet from each other, said Jane Higgins, a physician at Hartshorn Health Service and co-coordinator of the planning committee.

But the committee is planning for the worst-case scenario in hopes of minimizing its affects. Each department at CSU will submit a plan to the committee by the end of January. The committee will review the plans, make necessary changes and submit the university’s pandemic flu plan to Larimer County.

“With all the detail we’ve put into (the planning), we’ll be able to handle any situation,” Ken Quintana, an Environmental Health and Safety specialist and co-coordinator of the planning committee said.

An influenza pandemic occurs every 30 to 40 years and is different from seasonal influenza that occurs between December and March.

Pandemic flu is a widespread virus caused by a new influenza strain that has efficient person-to-person transmission, Higgins said. It’s typically more severe than seasonal flu, causing 25 to 30 percent of the population to fall ill versus 5 to 10 percent with seasonal flu.

Currently, there is no pandemic, but health officials are concerned that Avian (bird) flu could become a pandemic. Higgins said person-to-person transmission of the H5N1 strain is rare, but it will become a pandemic if it does start to spread efficiently through people.

If a flu pandemic hits, the planning committee wants students, faculty and staff to be prepared.

“Some students can’t travel home and some research buildings can’t just shut down,” Higgins said, adding that the university will have to maintain critical services.

Food and water must be available for students who can’t get home and generators need to be available for the veterinary school and other research buildings with important experiments.

The committee is tackling other uncertainties, too. Payrolls for people performing critical services, state regulations, graduation requirements and social distancing – canceling public events and keeping people at home – are of importance.

Also important to the planning committee is personal preparation.

“No institutional planning makes sense if there’s no individual planning,” Higgins said.

Because an outbreak could last eight to 12 weeks, grocery stores, day care centers and schools might close. Medical, water, trash and transportation services may be limited.

“Health systems will be overwhelmed, and (emergency rooms) won’t be the place to go unless you need to be on a respirator,” Higgins said.

The university safety Web site, www.safety.colostate.edu, has information about preparing for a possible pandemic. Having two weeks worth of food, water and medication are recommended, in addition to travel plans for students away from home.

Quintana said the Web site is a good resource in any emergency.

“The safety Web site will be the biggest place for people to go for all emergencies,” he said.

The last outbreak in the United States was in 1968, but it was much less severe than the “Spanish influenza” in 1918 that infected between 20 and 40 percent of the world’s population.

“It went from coast to coast in 10 days,” Quintana said. “Imagine what it would be like now.”

Staff writer Heather Hawkins can be reached at news@collegian.com.

Source: United States Department of Health and Human Services

PandemicFlu.gov

To prevent the flu:

1. Wash your hands.

2. Cover your mouth when you cough.

3. Stay home when you’re sick.

4. Get a flu shot.

5. Cook meat and poultry properly.

6. Clean surfaces where you live.

Things to have in case a pandemic occurs:

1. A two-week supply of water, food and medications.

2. Tissues, trash bags and surgical masks.

3. A travel plan if you’re away from home.

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