Try to ‘duck the flu’ this winter

When it comes to preventing the upcoming flu season, Paula Staight likes to use the ironic phrase, “Duck the Flu.” Staight, a spokesperson for the Health Center, has been working all summer to prepare for the usual flood of flu cases that will hit the University this winter.

The H1N1 flu, widely known as swine flu, caused mass hysteria last spring when cases of the illness traveled across the country. The virus has caused the biggest threat to people with pre-existing diseases, pregnant women and people ages 5 to 25.

“I guess this is one time you want to have white hair,” Health Center director Mike Eyster said.
The Center for Disease Control has found that 70 percent of people who have been hospitalized with this 2009 H1N1 virus have had previous medical conditions, putting them at risk of serious seasonal flu-related complications.

The first known case of H1N1 in Lane County appeared in May at the University’s Moss Street Children’s Center. Students were immediately informed of the situation and now, four months later, Eyster is confident in the Health Center’s preparation for this fall.

In the course of many meetings and much training through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Health Center has “learned a couple of things” on how to proceed when H1N1 flu cases come up, Eyster said. This summer, he met with faculty, staff and deans of the University, providing information and advice on the upcoming months.

The Health Center has reached out to as many faculty as possible, Eyster said. The CDC advised that cancellations and closures are not the answer.

“It’s not helpful to close things down,” Eyster said. “If we close, the students won’t have anywhere to go and there’s no benefit in that.”

Another problem that the Health Center is facing is that nobody knows when the blow will hit.

“One thing that is different about this flu is that most flu cases appear during the winter season,” Eyster said. “The H1N1 virus picks its own season.”

Eyster and Staight have no clear projection of how seriously the H1N1 virus could affect the University.

“In some parts of the country there have been little to no cases present,” Staight said. “But then look at Washington State University, which has over 2,500 cases already, you just
don’t know.”

The Health Center is taking no chances, however. Its employees are spreading literature about prevention and flu-like symptoms around the campus. Throughout the Week of Welcome, the Health Center will hand out a bag with a digital thermometer and antiseptic gel, and all resident assistants and hall directors in University Housing have been briefed on prevention tactics.

“We have to plan for the worst but hope for the best,” Staight said.

“What we are trying to do is make sure the risk to the campus is diminished,” Eyster said.

The Seasonal Flu Vaccine is already available to students at the Health Center, and Eyster said the H1N1 vaccine will be available sometime in October.

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