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Officials Plan for Flu Season

By Jeannine Manning Hutson

As East Carolina University prepares to welcome students to campus for the fall semester, the ECU Influenza Steering Group is looking toward the future and wondering what’s on the horizon.

In North Carolina, 483 cases of H1N1 virus have been reported, according to the N.C. Division of Public Health. A fifth person in N.C. with H1N1 has died, according to the Associated Press. The 55-year-old man in Transylvania County died in mid-July after being hospitalized for pneumonia and flulike symptoms. These statistics are in line with what is seen during a normal flu season. CDC guidelines recommend only testing hospitalized flu patients for H1N1 so the total number of ill is likely to be higher.

Throughout the summer, news reports of H1N1 appearing at summer camps hosted by N.C. colleges and universities appeared. A summer enrichment camp at Appalachian State reported H1N1 in some campers. In mid-July, Duke University closed one of its three-week Talent Identification Program camps early after campers became sick with flulike symptoms.

The ECU Influenza Steering Group is working with UNC-General Administration, the other UNC campuses and the Pitt County Health Department to plan different scenarios, such as if a vaccine is tested and approved by fall, how would it be distributed to students on campus?

“ECU has an influenza response plan originally developed for Avian Influenza,” said Tom Pohlman with ECU’s Environmental Health and Safety office.

“It is important for ECU to use this plan as a flexible guide for H1N1 because the current severity is mild compared to Avian Influenza. There is a possibility this could change by this coming year’s flu season.

“We are monitoring the H1N1 situation because ages 4-24 show a disproportionately higher infection rate than the older population.”

Duke University announced in mid-July that it would begin testing a pandemic flu vaccine on as many as 200 volunteers in early August.

Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention think that H1N1 has likely infected more than 1 million Americans, with the majority of those suffering mild cases never reported. There have been 302 H1N1 deaths in the U.S. since April, according to the AP.

“It is not only important for ECU to have a plan, but also for everyone to have their own plan as well. Faculty and staff should plan to tend to school-aged children if schools and daycares are closed, and college students should plan on how to follow class assignments should they become ill with the flu,” said Pohlman.

As the semester begins, ECU officials are urging faculty, staff and students to use the same precautionary measures that they would during the height of flu season.

Updates on the flu can be found at  http://www.dhhs.state.nc.us/.

7/29/09
This page originally appeared in the July 31, 2009 issue of Pieces of Eight. Complete issue is archived at http://www.ecu.edu/news/poe/Arch.cfm.