Colorado State University officials and the Associated Students of Colorado State University are hosting Pandemic Flu Awareness Week on campus beginning Monday, Oct. 30.
The week is designed to make students and staff aware of educational resources that can help them prepare for and protect their own health should an influenza pandemic occur.
"While an influenza pandemic is not imminent and experts can’t predict when the next pandemic will occur or how severe it may be, some scientists believe that the current avian influenza could mutate to spread easily from person to person, causing an influenza pandemic that may be serious," said Jane Higgins, a physician at Hartshorn Health Center on campus and co-chair of the university’s pandemic planning committee.
"Experts do agree that there will be another pandemic, and history indicates that influenza pandemics occur about every 30 to 40 years. The last outbreak in the United States was in 1968. Therefore, university officials believe it is important to educate students and staff about how they should personally prepare."
Regardless of whether a pandemic is imminent, university health officials say that learning more about pandemic influenza and how to prepare for an emergency is always a good exercise. For example, Higgins points out that the flu prevention information available during Pandemic Flu Awareness Week and on the university’s safety site would be helpful in preventing seasonal flu.
Resources such as household checklists and tips to prevent the spread of seasonal or pandemic flu are available through printed materials disbursed across campus this week as well as on the university’s safety Website at www.safety.colostate.edu. Brochures providing educational information about personal protection strategies and links to Web resources will be available at Hartshorn Health Center, the information desk at Lory Student Center, Lory Student Center Bookstore, Colorado State University Police Department, Greek Life and the Recreation Center.
Information shared during awareness week reminds students and staff that steps such as washing their hands often, covering their cough, staying home when sick, getting a flu shot and cleaning surfaces that are often touched can help protect health during any flu season. The information also educates students and staff about the differences between seasonal and pandemic influenza and helps better inform the campus community about what to expect if a significant outbreak occurs.
In addition, members of the pandemic planning committee will host a question-and-answer session brown-bag lunch from noon.-1:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 1 in the Lory Student Center, Room 210.
Colorado State officials are coordinating with state and county agencies to develop a comprehensive response in the event of a pandemic flu outbreak. The plan is spearheaded by the university’s Emergency Management Team, and each department and unit within the university also will develop a plan. University department and units will be receiving information from university administrators about how to develop their own response guidelines.
While the university’s plan continuously evolves, information about the plan will be available by Nov. 1 on the university’s safety Web site. This site also contains information that explains pandemic influenza, steps individuals can take to protect themselves and links to additional information.
Goals of the university’s pandemic emergency plan include reducing the illness rate of all students and staff as well as ensuring the university’s ability to recover all functions after an emergency.
"A critical part of this plan is educating students and their families about each student’s responsibility to prepare for any emergency, including a pandemic. It is expected that a serious pandemic outbreak could have worldwide impact on an unpredictable timeline, and experts believe illnesses would spread rapidly from one area to another," said Ken Quintana, environmental health and safety specialist at the university and co-chair of the pandemic planning committee.
In the event of a serious pandemic flu outbreak, for example, major disruptions are likely for health care, transportation, infrastructure and other public services including the delivery of food, services and other goods, Quintana said. Depending upon the severity of any emergency, the university may suspend all classes and functions to protect the health of all students and staff. Employees with designated emergency status may be the only individuals with access to campus buildings.
Staff and students, particularly those who live off campus, should prepare their households for any emergency, including an influenza pandemic. A household checklist of supplies that may be useful for students and staff to prepare is available at www.safety.colostate.edu or at pandemicflu.gov.
In addition, all students should develop a communications plan with their families in the event of an emergency. Students may also need to talk about a travel or transportation plan with their families to help them return home in the event of an emergency that extends over a significant period of time.
A pandemic influenza is different from seasonal influenza that occurs each year between December and March. Seasonal flu causes illnesses in 5 to 10 percent of the population and causes about 36,000 deaths and 200,000 hospitalizations a year. A pandemic influenza can occur at any time of year, and it resurges in waves. This flu can cause illnesses in as many as 25 to 30 percent of the population and has the highest impact on school-aged children, young adults and working adults – and the illnesses span the globe.
Influenza pandemics have worldwide impact with an unpredictable timeline. They spread quickly from one area to another. Significant pandemics disrupt health care, transportation, infrastructure, education, and service, food and good suppliers.
The 1918 influenza pandemic, also known as the Spanish influenza, was the most serious pandemic of the past century, causing 20 to 40 percent of the world’s population to fall ill. Millions of people died from the pandemic.
At that time in Fort Collins, the mayor quarantined residents and closed all schools, theaters, churches and other public gathering places. Colorado State University, known as Colorado Agricultural College, was closed for a month.