The first reported swine flu fatality in San Luis Obispo County has renewed concerns about the disease, also known as novel H1N1 infection.
Phase 6 is characterized by at least two countries in different regions having outbreaks at the community level.
The swine flu is spreading across the globe, but the Cal Poly Health Center is preparing for a potentially severe resurgence of the virus to keep it from spreading across the campus.
Cal Poly Health Center medical director David Harris said, “We are doing the best we can to anticipate the need. By nature it’s an uncertain business. Trying to sense the magnitude is kind is like asking ‘how bad is the hurricane going to be?’ when we don’t even know when it is going to make landfall.”
The center is planning based on the presumption that a swine flu vaccine will be available by this fall, Harris said.
Vaccine availability depends on several factors, including manufacturing time and time needed to conduct clinical trials, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Web site.
“We have no vaccine yet and we don’t know how much and when it will be available. It’s hard for us to devise a plan when we don’t have our major defense weapon available yet,” Harris said.
The San Luis Obispo Public Health Department will receive the vaccine from the production companies and allocate quantities to healthcare facilities based on need.
Michelle Shoresman, the emergency preparedness program manager at the San Luis Obispo Public Health Department, said that if supplies are limited, the department plans to work with whatever group of people are at greatest risk for contracting the virus based on CDC recommendations.
One priority group includes all people from six months to 24 years of age, an age range that makes up 95 percent of the Cal Poly student population.
People within this age range generally go to school, work or live in close proximity to many people, which increases the potential for spreading disease.
The San Luis Obispo Public Health Department passes updates from the California Department of Public Health to all local healthcare facilities.
“If and when there is a vaccine, we will be working with all local health facilities and following pretty specific guidelines. It all depends on the quantity of the vaccine we have,” Shoresman said.
While availability of the vaccine is still unclear, the treatment plan that will be enforced is more concrete.
“We will be given a small portion at first, then will get a second wave and a third if need be. The distribution will be based on where the highest incidences of cases are, population, as well as priority groups,” Shoresman said.
Individuals within the priority groups total approximately 159 million people in the United States, according to the CDC’s Web site.
The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) considered several factors when determining the priority groups, including current disease patterns, populations most at risk for severe illness, how much vaccine is expected to be available and the timing of vaccine availability, according to the CDC’s Web site.
Since healthcare workers are a potential source of infection for vulnerable patients and because increased absences of staff could affect efficiency, the staff at the Cal Poly Health Center will receive a traditional flu shot, as well as a swine flu vaccination if it is available, Harris said.
While Cal Poly does have many people who fall under one of the priority groups, Cal Poly students have not been greatly affected thus far.
Third year kinesiology major, Lyndsey Soli, does not believe that a treatment plan for the upcoming flu season should be based on how the flu behaved last spring.
“People’s lax attitude (is a big concern). It didn’t hit very hard last time so people might not be on as high alert as they should be,” Soli said.
The swine flu has similar symptoms and spreads in the same way that regular seasonal influenza viruses spread: through the coughs and sneezes of people who are sick with the virus and by touching infected objects and then touching your nose or mouth.
The same vaccination, however, cannot be used to treat the seasonal flu and the swine flu because they are different strains of influenza A.
Cal Poly Health Center has not had to deal with a swine flu pandemic, but there were students last spring who were diagnosed with mild cases of the H1N1 virus, none of which required hospitalization, Harris said.
The biggest challenge last spring was the efficiency of the testing for the H1N1 virus.
“The testing was so non-helpful because we didn’t get results for 12 to 14 days. Students were better before the test even came back. There is no rapid screening test that we have to distinguish the H1N1 virus,” Harris said. “It would be nice if we had a thermometer that we could just stick under the tongue and it would give us a plus or minus sign.”
Developing a more efficient test may take a year or longer, he added.
Health officials agree that the most effective ways for people to reduce their risk of contracting the virus are to get seven to nine hours of sleep, eat a healthy diet and keep their hands clean.