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USF takes precautions for swine flu pandemic

As the first H1N1, or swine flu, cases in Florida were reported in the Tampa Bay area, USF began making its own preparations for possible cases on campus.

University administrators and faculty held meetings to discuss safety measures and how to alert students, said USF Provost Ralph Wilcox.

“We’re fortunate that we have a nationally ranked College of Health at USF,” Wilcox said. “So, we have expertise among our professors, our graduate students and our undergraduate students who can all help with communicating the message.”

The Hillsborough County Health Department reported five confirmed cases in Florida and 19 possible cases, six of them in Hillsborough County.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 2,254 confirmed cases in 44 states and three deaths in the United States.

The swine flu outbreak first occurred in Mexico where there are 1,626 confirmed cases and 45 deaths, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

As a precaution, USF refrained from hand shaking at the spring commencement ceremonies Friday and Saturday, said USF President Judy Genshaft.

“The University is a research university, and as such we’re always supposed to be on the cutting edge of innovation and best practices, so this is also a part of best practices … It’s all part of being careful and listening to CDC,” she said.

Bruce Benson, assistant vice president of Public Safety, said USF will continue to hold
meetings about safety measures to be taken regarding the swine flu.

“From an administration standpoint, concerns are lessening … but a basic structure needs to be in place for emergencies in case we have them,” he said.

What is swine flu?

In the midst of swine flu cases increasingly spreading throughout the state, Mark Walters, associate professor at USF St. Petersburg, is encouraging others to research the facts about swine flu.

Swine flu originates in wild birds, which carry all influenza A viruses, said Walters, who studies and traces where infectious diseases originate.

Walters said swine flu is an agricultural disease and is transferred through animal interaction.

“When you mix a wild bird with, say, domesticated ducks in a pond, which the pigs live next to, then you transfer (swine flu) from it’s original source into pigs,” he said.

Walters said people cannot contract the virus from eating pork. Instead, people who work with the animals contract the virus and then spread the infection to other people.

Walters said this is the first time the virus has spread between people.

“It will continue to spread probably, but it may not spread this year. With the hot weather it may slow down or even go underground and get in the background for awhile.” Walters said. “In cold weather, people are in much closer contact. They’re all in their homes plus schools are out during the summer.”

Walters said it could take at least six months to make a vaccine.

“The important thing is people stay tuned to the possibility of change as there will be change in recommendations at this point,” he said. “It’s very hard to make specific recommendations for the future, because we kind of don’t know the situation.”

Health clinic advises students

USF Student Health Services (SHS) has been screening all students who come in with a fever for possible contact with swine flu, said SHS Director Dr. Egilda Terenzi.

The clinic sees about 100 to 150 students a day, but the clinic has only sent one sample to be tested for swine flu, Terenzi said.

The clinic has been distributing hand sanitizers to students as well providing instructions on preventing illness.

“If you’re sick stay home, do not infect anyone else,” Terenzi said. “If you are well, keep your hands clean, wash regularly and do not touch your eyes, nose, mouth — all these are portals of entry for the virus.”

If students get sick they are advised to seek medical attention at the student health clinic, but that advice may change if many students get sick, Terenzi said.

Benson said SHS may consider prescribing Tamiflu, but no medications are being prescribed yet.

Terenzi said she is monitoring CDC and WHO and is in contact with other university health clinics for updates on the spreading of the swine flu virus.

“There is always a level of concern,” she said. “The amount of travel in and around the United States, the travel is so fluid at this point in our history that things can change very rapidly. To be vigilant means that you take care of yourself.”

Residence services begins planning

As students move into residence halls for the summer semester, USF Housing and Residential Education Services is taking precautions in case any student contracts the swine flu virus, said Dorie Paine, director of Housing and Residential Education.

Paine said resident services gave residents handouts with precautions about cleaning their room and ordered hand sanitizers to give to residents.

“We do have some apartments that we could isolate students in if necessary,” Paine said.

Terenzi said she has met with housing services and though no decision has been made to close any residence halls, USF is making plans in case a resident does contract the virus.

“We need to start thinking about where sick students will be housed — how you get food and water to them so they do not have to go out and affect others,” she said.

Paine said it is difficult to make specific plans because things could change when a situation occurs.

“The way we have approached it is that these are the questions we need to ask when something is going on,” she said.

Study aboard students may face roadblocks

Despite swine flu cases in other countries, USF’s Education Abroad Program has not canceled any study abroad trips, said program director Amanda Maurer.

There are no scheduled trips to Mexico, but student groups are going to other countries where swine flu cases have been reported.

This month student groups are going to Paris, Canada, Brazil, Russia, Italy, China and Costa Rica. The WHO reported six confirmed cases each in Brazil and Italy, one confirmed case in China, and one confirmed case in Costa Rica.

“The United States is the second-most infected country in the world right now, so in some way we’re actually sending these students from a county where there is the swine flu to countries where there is not,” Maurer said.

Maurer said countries are screening individuals upon arrival and some airports are taking people’s temperatures.

USF senior Sandra Keller left today for a three-month trip to Europe. For three weeks, she will be a USF study abroad student studying management information systems in Germany.

“I’m really not (worried about the swine flu),” she said. “I mean I probably should be, but I’m not because I have a very good immune system right now. I’m very careful about what I do and who I associate myself with. I don’t like being in rooms where people are coughing or stuff like that.”

Each student in the Education Abroad program has insurance that covers costs for medical evacuations. Maurer said the program would communicate with the host country to determine if a student needs to leave.

“The thing is when you enter the country, you’re not under the law (here) just because you come from USF or come from the U.S.,” she said. “You don’t transplant the laws and regulations of your home country. You are now subject to the laws and regulations of the (host) country.”

Maurer said they are also monitoring the CDC and WHO Web sites for updates on the swine flu.

Additional reporting by Yaffi Hilili.