Campus reacts to swine flu pandemic

<em>Photo submitted</em>
Photo submitted

As cases of the Swine Flu (H1N1) started to appear in Minnesota, Gustavus decided it would not take any chances. “A campus team, including senior staff, faculty and health personnel, is meeting regularly to assess the evolving situation and to determine appropriate College responses,” said President Jack Ohle in an e-mail to the Gustavus community.

H1N1, believed to have originated in Mexico, is classified as an “Influenza-like Illness,” according to the Center for Disease Control. What makes it dangerous, however, is the novelty of the virus.

“When something is new, the scary part is we do not know how that virus is going to act, and we do not necessarily have good tools for screening or treating it,” said Director of Student Health Services Heather Dale. Although over 50 H1N1-related deaths have occurred in Mexico, the death toll in the United States is only three. Symptoms of the virus include a fever over 100.4 degrees, a sore throat and a cough.

Fortunately, the virus is treatable. “We were fortunate here because medication already developed in the past does in fact work to kill this virus,” said Dale. But this does not mean that people are not concerned about the virus.

“Last Friday I went to the doctor, and it took an hour to actually see the doctor because everybody … is coming in because they have a cough and think it is the Swine Flu,” said Theatre and Dance Administrative Assistant Joleen Nickels.

“The Swine Flu is a pandemic, but that does not mean panic,” said Dale. “It is nothing more than a new virus beginning to grow and spread. Strep throat is a pandemic, too, because everyone has potential access to it, but we never think of strep throat in that way.”

Some feel the college is being too precautious about the virus. “I am not concerned I will get the virus … If you treat it right away, it will not kill you, so why did they create a college committee?” said First-Year English and Political Science Major Mary Cooley.

“People are dying of pneumonia and not the actual Swine Flu; it is just being over-dramati[zed],” said Sophomore History and Religion Major Claire Sagstuen.

Others feel the College’s actions are comforting and appropriate. “I remember when the Asian Bird Flu struck and my dad was working at Luther College. I felt comforted knowing that they were planning for it, so I am glad Gustavus also has a plan now,” said Senior Art Studio Major Elizabeth Faldet.

If a member of the Gustavus community were to be diagnosed with the Swine Flu, the response would be much less intense now than it would have been a few weeks ago. While some schools immediately evacuated upon learning of possible cases, the Center for Disease Control has now laid out a different protocol. “Currently recommendations are that a diagnosed person self-isolate, so they stay in their dorm room or go home and recover,” said Dale, who reiterated that a campus evacuation would be highly unlikely now.

When it comes down to it, common sense is the best defense mechanism. “The best thing everyone can do to prevent the spread of the illness is to simply keep your hands clean and maintain good health practices,” said Dale. This is why the college distributed bottles of hand sanitizer for members of the community to take and use.

In the case of flu-like symptoms (high fever, cough, runny nose, body aches, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea), students are encouraged to contact the Gustavus Health Services (lower level of the Jackson Campus Center, 933-7630). Non-students are encouraged to contact their own health-care provider(s). Health care professionals are in the best position to determine if you need influenza testing.

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