In 1918, classes were suspended, finals were canceled and the Engineering Building was set up as an infirmary, all because of an influenza pandemic.
This outbreak of the flu was the worst in recorded history, killing 600,000 in the United States alone. CSU, then the Colorado Agricultural College, was shut down for 25 days, and 15 of the 300 students attending the university died.
As a part of Pandemic Flu Awareness Week, CSU, Colorado-Boulder and surrounding Colorado communities are creating comprehensive plans to prepare themselves in case of another pandemic.
“This is our chance to plan and be prepared so it doesn’t hit us as hard as it could,” said Ken Quintana, an environmental health and safety specialist at CSU.
In the last 500 years, there have been an average of three pandemics per century. The worst outbreaks during the 20th century occurred in 1918, 1957 and 1968. None were as bad as the first, but each had a significant impact on the fabric of American society.
“Today, everyone plans for the highest level of severity. Our thoughts must include ‘what is the worst we can imagine’ and that is the pandemic of 1918,” said Dr. Jane Higgins, a staff physician at Hartshorn Health Service and co-coordinator of the university’s pandemic planning committee. “We try to learn from history about disease and how to plan for it.”
The university’s Emergency Management Team and other related committees are trying to get the word out to students and the community about preparing themselves in advance to ensure their health and safety.
During the pandemic of 1918, young adults were the hardest hit demographic. They have also been infected the most by the current Avian flu, the influenza spread from human to human which is sometimes confused with the bird flu, which is not transmittable to humans.
Higgins said the goal of the committee is to inform people about the possible effects a pandemic could have on the community.
“I think it’s good they are telling people about it but I don’t think there’s a chance of a pandemic occurring because we are so advanced and we have the resources to control it,” said Benjamin Vacha, a freshman electrical engineering student.
The influenza death toll, however, is gradually increasing. This is why the possibility of a pandemic is such a high priority for Larimer County and CSU in particular.
“This is not the end of our efforts,” Higgins said. “We have the process and the plan – this will be an ongoing educational campaign.”
Staff writer Stephanie Gerlach can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.