New committee prepares for a pandemic event

Allison Remcheck

The Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have advised universities to develop a plan in case of a pandemic flu outbreak and created a “Pandemic Influenza Planning Checklist.”

Kent State is following the checklist and has also created its own Pandemic Event Plan and Planning Committee, consisting of both university members and community advisors.

“There’s a belief that we are due for a pandemic event,” said Mary DeMichele Reeves, director of University Health Services and Student Accessibility Services. “If it never happens, that’s great, but health officials say it is inevitable.”

A similar committee was formed during the SARS scare, and the same group came together again to plan for the pandemic flu, Reeves said. The committee will meet every two weeks throughout the summer to have a final plan by October. It’s also sharing its information with nearby universities.

“If we’re prepared for the worst case scenario, we’re prepared for anything,” Reeves said.

Researchers fear common strains of influenza mutating into more virulent ones to create a pandemic, Reeves said.

“That’s what it (the strain) does. It mutates, and what happens is, it becomes a particularly virulent or strong virus that affects people quickly,” Reeves said.

Kent State is developing a plan for diagnosing and treating patients if a virulent epidemic occurred, Reeves said.

“What we try to do is early detection and education and prevention, so the people who are the sickest can get the best care,” she said.

According to the World Health Organization, there are two types of antiviral drugs which should be able to “reduce the severity of the disease and improve prospects for survival.” However, the drugs Tamiflu and Relenza have to be administered within the first 48 hours of infection.

Students can be more vulnerable to the virus because they are stressed and over-worked, Reeves said.

Last year, Reeves said the university administered 2,500 flu shots, and this year she said she hopes to give more, as more vaccines will be available through the school. The community will receive extra supplies in case of a flu outbreak from the Centers for Disease Control, she said.

John Ferlito, health commissioner for the city of Kent and member of the Pandemic Planning Committee, said Kent ordered about 3,000 shots for this fall.

The DeWeese Health Center is also planning more education and outreach to inform students and faculty about the flu season, including seminars, workshops, training and a Web site, Reeves said.

“There’s no reason to panic,” she said. “If you really educate people and are honest about issues, that balances out any fear of mistrust.”

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