University prepares for flu pandemic

Sally Abbott, Director of Alaska Public Health Preparedness, right, participated in a day-long seminar on pandemic flu with officials from across the UA System. Rick Forkel, Statewide's emergency preparedness coordinator, is pictured at left. Photo by Monique Musick

University of Alaska staff and health workers across the system are gearing up for flu season by planning, sharing information with each other and identifying actions that need to be done to be prepared.

While the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services and the federal Centers for Disease Control are the lead public health agencies for H1N1 flu or other outbreaks, UA staff who work with students, including housing, health centers and first responders, are meeting regularly to ensure proper plans and processes are in place at all UA campuses should the flu season turn nasty.

Discussions have centered on the potential impact on UA campuses, particularly with students living in residence halls but also off-campus students, faculty and staff. Young adults appear to be particularly vulnerable to the novel H1N1 virus. Faculty and staff also need to be kept informed, so that classes and business operations continue to run smoothly.

One big push is informing staff and students how to prevent catching the flu in the first place. Those simple prevention measures include:

•    Washing your hands with hot, soapy water or using hand sanitizer frequently;
•    Coughing or sneezing into your sleeve or tissue, rather than your hands;
•    Avoiding the sharing food or drink with others;
•    And staying home if you’re sick.

A healthy lifestyle that includes a good diet and plenty of sleep also helps. A term called “social distancing,” or standing three to six feet away from someone exhibiting flu-like symptoms, is recommended if possible.

The state, working with the CDC, will let the public know if and when the flu reaches unusually high levels or if additional action is recommended, such as school closures, isolating sick patients or other measures. University emergency managers across the system, as well as employees at student health centers and those involved in student services, are updating preparedness plans. Staff are considering options should students or employees become sick in unusually high numbers.

UA managers and directors should consider how their department’s function would continue if the flu causes an unusually high or prolonged rate of absenteeism. Known as “business continuity plans,” these considerations are important and adaptable to a variety of disasters and emergencies. A template for continuity plans will be available for managers to use soon, and will be posted on the UA System Office of Risk Services website under the Emergency Management header. Watch for additional information in the Voice or through email as well.

For more information on protecting yourself, go to:

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