Be Prepared: FAQs on Pandemic Influenza
Pandemic Influenza - A preparation guide for students and staff
Southeastern Louisiana University is dedicated to maintaining a safe and healthy environment for the many faculty, staff, students, and many visitors who visit our campus annually. With increasing concerns about a global outbreak of influenza or other possible viral diseases, the university is developing guidelines and communication plans to be used in the event of an outbreak of an influenza pandemic that could threaten the health and safety of students and staff.
This information is intended to provide you with basic information regarding a possible influenza outbreak and some of the steps the university may need to take in order to limit the spread of disease and to continue operations as normally as possible.
The university has appointed a pandemic planning council which will monitor the situation as it applies to our institution and which has been charged with periodically informing the campus community about developments and any steps that may be taken to protect the community. Information will be distributed via e-mail and Internet postings on the university’s website. We ask that all assume the responsibility of keeping themselves informed and prepared for a possible outbreak.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is pandemic influenza?
Pandemic influenza can be any virus that is easily spread and which can possibly cause serious illness and death. It differs from the usual “seasonal” outbreaks of flu in that it is a new virus to people and is likely to affect many more people and a broader set of the population – including young adults -- than seasonal influenza.
Why is there concern now about pandemic influenza?
Flu viruses are constantly changing and appear just about every year. Pandemic influenza, however, has occurred three times in the last century, the most serious being the 1918 pandemic that killed tens of millions of people worldwide. Epidemiologists – scientists who study disease outbreaks – are predicting that statistically the world is at risk for another pandemic in the relatively near future. And a severe pandemic would most likely change daily life for a period of time, including limitations on travel and public gatherings.
Is this related to the “bird flu” or avian influenza now in Asia?
The short answer is “possibly,” because this is a new virus that has the potential to become lethal and possibly develop into a pandemic influenza. The avian flu is spreading from birds to other animals and the virus has infected some people. In very rare cases, the virus has spread from one person to another. Currently, vaccines are being developed to possibly limit the spread of this disease; however, Swine Influenza A viruses and/or a combination of human and bird viruses must be considered as well.
How fast would a pandemic flu spread?
Because of the amount of worldwide travel, once pandemic influenza begins, it is likely to spread very rapidly. Influenza is an air-borne disease, meaning that it is usually spread by infected people coughing and sneezing. And, since this would likely be a new virus, most people would have little or no immunity to the disease. In general, however, most people who get sick will recover from the illness.
Are some people at greater risk for illness?
People who already have a health problem or who have weakened immune systems are likely to be at higher risk. Young children and older people tend to be at higher risk for disease as well. In addition, young adults – college-age students for example – could be at higher risk than the general population.
Is there a treatment for this type of influenza?
Right now the federal government and private pharmaceutical companies are developing possible vaccines that could be used to immunize people in the event of an outbreak. Antiviral medications – which can only be obtained by prescription – may also be used to lessen the severity of the disease. Plans are being developed to dispense these medications more easily if the situation warrants it. Seasonal influenza vaccines may not adequately cover new viral strains.
When a pandemic hits an area, how long would it last?
That’s difficult to predict because so many variables are at play here. Estimates range from six weeks to two months for a pandemic virus impact on a region.
What would Southeastern do if a pandemic hit this area?
The university will implement an emergency response plan should a pandemic influenza affect this region. This includes the possibility of canceling classes for a period, setting up Internet or other distance learning programs, the possibility of shutting down residence halls, and the need to create an on-campus infirmary for individuals who need that assistance or who may need to be isolated from others. The campus community will be kept fully informed of any developments or policies that affect students and staff in the event of a pandemic outbreak.
What can individuals do to prepare?
Remember, right now there is no pandemic influenza in the U.S. or the world. It is important, however, that individuals stay informed about these developments, either through the university Health Center or via reliable Internet resources, such as www.pandemicflu.gov.
For more information
Southeastern’s Vera W. Thompson Health Center (985-549-2241) has additional information on pandemic influenza. In addition, the federal government maintains up-to-date, factual information and advice on the website, www.pandemicflu.gov.