U in ‘heightened preparedness’ for swine flu

The University and state have been planning for pandemic influenza for years.

Health officials confirmed 40 cases of a novel strain of influenza, swine flu, in the United States Monday, and the World Health Organization raised its pandemic influenza alert phase, but the University of Minnesota and the state believe they have plans in place to handle the pandemic should it spread. More than 1,000 people in Mexico have contracted the disease, a strain of influenza A, and more than 100 are dead. According to a statement issued by Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO director-general, the change from phase three to four, âÄúindicates that the likelihood of a pandemic has increased, but not that a pandemic is inevitable.âÄù Students were notified late Sunday night via e-mail from the offices of Vice President for University Services Kathleen OâÄôBrien and the School of Public Health Dean John Finnegan that all official University business would continue as normal. âÄúWhere we are right now is a state of what we would call âÄòheightened preparedness,âÄôâÄù said Finnegan, the assistant vice president for public health. âÄúThis is a good time for organizations like the University to sit down and review what their plans are, should the situation ever get worse.âÄù The University, like many organizations, has planned for the next pandemic influenza. In February, the Daily reported on a pair of reports prepared by the Minnesota Pandemic Ethics Project, which sought to weigh ethical decisions about scarce resources during pandemic influenza. Officials told the Daily in February it wasnâÄôt a matter of if another strain of influenza would grow to pandemic proportions âÄî it was a matter of when it would happen. But Minnesota State Epidemiologist Dr. Ruth Lynfield said so far the reported illnesses in the United States have been mild cases, unlike the 1918 Spanish influenza, which resulted in severe disease and high death rates. âÄúWe need to keep an eye on things, because we donâÄôt quite understand whatâÄôs going on in Mexico,âÄù she said, âÄúand because influenza has the capacity to change.âÄù Boynton Health Service has started asking patients with respiratory symptoms to wear a mask to help stop the spread of germs, Dave Golden, director of marketing and public health, said. The recommendations for students to stay healthy are âÄúthe same as always,âÄù he said: good handwashing, staying home if they feel ill, covering coughs and sneezes. âÄúThis isnâÄôt the time to be out being infectious,âÄù Golden said. Although travel is not restricted between Mexico and the United States, numerous reports Monday suggested refraining from travel to Mexico. Lynfield said the CDC is likely to update its guidance and recommendations regarding Mexico, and an update would likely be released in the next 24-to-48 hours. Currently, 21 undergraduate University students are studying abroad for credit in Mexico. There are no plans to bring them back, Finnegan said, although the Office of International Programs is monitoring the situation and has plans in place if things change. May term and summer sessions are still slated to send students to Mexico, he said, but could change depending on the CDC guidance and recommendations. âÄúThe key about all of this is the University is recognized as one of the leaders in preparedness,âÄù Finnegan said. âÄúIt puts us in a very good position to deal with what nature throws at us here.âÄù âÄî Emma L. Carew is a senior staff reporter