Influenza Update – Friday, May 15, 2009
As we end the 2008-09 academic year, I write to summarize our response to this spring's influenza outbreak.
Government health officials have determined that the current strain of influenza, the "swine flu" virus (H1N1), appears to be no more virulent than the normal seasonal flu. The virus tends not to thrive in spring weather, with more hours of sunlight and increased humidity. These conditions should slow the rate at which it spreads.
While this is good news for the time being, we must remain mindful that the virus could return in another outbreak in the fall and that the characteristics of the virus may change. Recall that the virulent flu outbreak that occurred in 1918 appeared in a much milder form in the spring of that year before returning in the fall as a lethal pandemic. While the outbreak then was fueled by a unique set of circumstances (e.g. limited medical knowledge and treatments, inadequate practices for reducing interpersonal exposure, and rapid transmission of the virus by U.S., soldiers travelling back and forth from Europe), we must approach the fall flu season cautiously and as prepared as possible.
The health of all members of the Whitman community continues to be the top priority. Whether or not we see a return of H1N1, health officials advise us all to wash hands and use hand sanitizer frequently, cover coughs, and do not come to work or attend class if you experience flu symptoms. These advisories will help limit the spread of seasonal flu. Getting flu shots every year is also advised. Please feel free to contact Claudia Ness, interim health services director, at email@example.com if you have questions about symptoms or vaccinations.
Our Pandemic Response Team and I have learned a great deal over the past many weeks. We have sought to understand the H1N1 virus and to communicate as clearly as possible how we must respond without causing undue alarm. I'm particularly pleased with the team's work and the level to which we have recorded and documented our activities. This will serve as a helpful foundation for the future should epidemic or pandemic issues arise.
Thank you for your attention; I hope final days of the semester go well for you and that you enjoy some of your well-deserved vacation time this summer.