Campus / National / News / September 23, 2009

Swine flu hot topic of discussion

There is a lot of worry circulating about the H1N1 virus, also known as the swine flu. Knox College created a task force in August 2009 to address swine flu and seasonal influenza. Headed by Director of Campus Safety John Schlaf, the panel includes Karrie Heartlein from Public Relations, Dan Larson from Health Services, Human Resources representative Gina Zindt, Food Service Director Helmut Mayer, Director of Facilities Services Scott Maust, Technical Support representative Vicky Romano, and Student Development Representative Lisa Welch. Additional consultations come from Scott Sunderland and Craig Southern, with briefing being provided to the Chair of the Student Senate Safety Committee.

Karrie Heartlein explained that these people were chosen for the task force because they “include all areas of the college that could be affected by flu outbreak.” Dean Xavier Romano agreed that the task force has “all bases covered.” Dining Services is making plans to ensure that sick students receive their meals. Public Relations and Human Resources is focusing on educating the campus about H1N1, as well as working with health agencies in the community.

“The Task Force was designed to bring the various departments together to address and discuss a specific health safety issue,” said John Schlaf. They plan to ensure the health of the Knox students, faculty, staff and their families against H1N1. This is achieved by addressing the prevention, knowledge, and response to seasonal and swine flu.

The task force started early, but Dean Romano assures, “We started early to be proactive, not because we are worried.” Since the task force formed over the summer, they now have all the kinks out of their communication. There is a set chain of command and knowledge of who will contact whom in the case of emergencies. H1N1 is a standing item of conversation in the weekly senior staff meetings.

Heartlein sits in on conference calls with the Knox County Health Department, local hospitals, and school districts so that she can hear and discuss the new H1N1 developments. After meetings, everyone leaves with tasks. The task force is responsible for the “3Cs; Clean, Cover, Contain” posters everywhere. Their primary goal is to spread education through the website, email, and posters.

“We try to get out as much information as possible to the students and faculty,” Heartlein said.

Romano emphasizes that the plan in place for H1N1 is not a set template but rather a loose set of solutions easily modified to each student. He said many institutions get into trouble with a structured plan. Knox makes sure to focus on the individual student’s situation, even with swine flu. This means looking at each sick student’s living conditions. Do they live in a suite? Are they close to home? How would they get home?

If a student tested positive with H1N1 before returning to Knox, they were asked to remain at home. According to Romano, there have been no cases on campus, but before school started there were a few students displaying symptoms. Romano added that all the students were “cool and agreed to stay home.”

If sick on campus, students will have to self-quarantine or go home if they live close by. Dean Romano says that classes and dining out are not options for students sick with H1N1 or any other form of influenza. They will have to depend on their friends for homework and food. Still, nothing is set in stone because the administration really wants to look at the living situation of each student. Romano has been happy to observe more students walking around with antibacterial hand soap.

“The students have been awesome,” he said, and mentioned that the antibacterial soap all over campus might be a permanent healthcare change.

The World Health Organization and the Center for Disease Control differ on how H1N1 is contracted. WHO says it is airborne, while the CDC says person-to-person contact is responsible. Since there is no definite explanation for how the virus spreads, be extra careful in regards to coughing and sneezing. Other preventative actions depend on how prevalent the illness becomes on campus. Just being extra hygienic should be enough. If H1N1 is very prevalent, wear masks, said Dr. James King of the Knox Health Services and Galesburg Clinic.

“[The] biggest ways to prevent spreading seasonal flu and swine flu are communication and good hygiene,” said Romano.

People with increased risks include young children, elderly individuals, people with chronic neuromuscular diseases, HIV positive people, college students and people suffering with chronic repertory problems. These are the people that need to make sure they get tested for H1N1 and the seasonal flu if they suspect they may have it. These are also the only people that will get anti-viral medication. Dr. King explained that the medications are “not any more severe than [drugs for] the seasonal flu.” He said that anti-virals would only shorten the length and severity of the illness- they do not immediately get rid of the virus.

College students are also at more of a risk than the general population because they live in large groups that are around each other constantly. Others can avoid public gatherings, but that is harder to achieve in a college setting. Dr. King recommended avoiding sick people and unnecessary social gatherings. This will go a long way towards helping to remain healthy.

The vaccine should be available at the end of October. It will be a two-shot regimen. Dr. King is very positive about the H1N1 vaccine.

“[It] looks very safe from what I have seen,” King said.

When the H1N1 vaccine is available at Knox, the administration will use every avenue available to let the community know they can receive it, assured Romano.

Without the vaccine, Dr. King believes people are “naked” against influenza. “Influenza is very contagious,” he said.

Dr. King further explained that there are several factors that determine if an individual will contact H1N1. For example, if most of a population is vaccinated, the swine flu will not spread. A person’s individual susceptibility to H1N1 also depends on whether they have a pre-existing health condition, how hard H1N1 hits their community, and their hygienic practices.

Schlaf believes that “unnecessary worry and/or panic serve no productive purpose.” He thinks the best way to prevent this is to remain aware and informed about the virus. The health practitioners are spreading the message to calm down. Romano agrees with this approach because he believes that stopping the public from overreacting is very important. Heartlein also believes that “the media makes H1N1 seem worse than it is. H1N1 is not a bigger scare than seasonal flu.” Romano sums it up: “Be thoughtful and aware, but do not overreact.”

The information put out about H1N1 is constantly changing. As Heartlein said, “There is always work to be done; situations are always going to change. We can’t plan for everything, but we can plan as much as possible for most likely outcomes.” The task force is an ongoing effort that changes as circumstances and information change. Schlaf believes that, although the information about H1N1 is constantly changing, the Knox and Galesburg community can work together to make sure everyone is prepared.

“What I tell you today may change by Friday,” said Dr. King, emphasizing how quickly knowledge evolves.

Galesburg Clinic has very close ties with the Knox Health Center and is thus very accessible to students. If ill, students would first be tested at Knox for the flu and then at Galesburg Clinic for H1N1. According to Schalf, some of the community health agencies Knox has been working with are the Knox County Health Department, the Galesburg Clinic, and St. Mary’s Hospital.

“Knox College is an important part of the Galesburg community so we have to work together with health agencies in the community,” said Heartlein. Romano strongly believes that the “power of this community to discuss issues cannot be underestimated.”

Romano has great faith in the school and the task force against influenza.

“We are prepared if H1N1 does hit us. If it does not, then at least we have a plan in action that will be useful in future years,” he said.

Swine flu, which is mainly a respiratory illness, takes a few days to appear after exposure. Symptoms include:

  • Coughing
  • Sore throat
  • High fever
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea

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