Campus plans for potential flu outbreak

Yale is currently developing an emergency response plan in case of an outbreak of avian flu, University officials said Wednesday.

The Office of the Secretary, which manages the University’s emergency operations, has been working on the plan since this summer, Deputy Secretary Martha Highsmith said. The office has convened meetings with Yale dining, facilities and security officials as well as campus, city and state health experts to formulate its details.

Since a worldwide avian flu outbreak might affect many people both on and off campus, it is important that the University be prepared, Highsmith said.

“There are lots of different scenarios about how bad an avian flu outbreak could be,” she said. “The cases that have appeared, mostly in parts of Asia, have been very serious. We want to be prepared if we want to face anything like that.”

In drafting their proposal, University officials have studied the 1918 flu pandemic, since it is the only scenario available, Highsmith said. But a flu outbreak today would be different from that of 1918, mainly because the disease would travel faster and there are more effective ways to treat it, she said.

University Health Services Director Paul Genecin said UHS has formulated a hypothetical planning model similar to that of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The model assumes that approximately 25 percent of people would become ill to different degrees, Genecin said.

“We have developed a plan, and we continue to develop it for providing a considerable amount of medical care to people on campus in a kind of clinical facility that we would be able to commission quickly using one of the athletic facilities as a space,” Genecin said.

The facility would be able to accommodate about 150 people, and the level of treatment would be less than intensive care, he said. The model assumes a limited capacity of Yale-New Haven Hospital to expand care since the hospital is normally stretched to its limits, Genecin said.

Yale is also considering other issues that might arise if an avian flu outbreak occurs, including whether students would be sent home or sporting events would be cancelled, Highsmith said. University officers will discuss the plan in the coming weeks, she said.

Dining Services Executive Director Don McQuarrie said the department would provide support services in the event of an outbreak.

“We will provide food services to the various groups that remain on campus and provide support to the triage centers that Health Services would set up in remote locations,” McQuarrie said.

Dining Services would also be responsible for feeding the regular medical centers, he said. The meals would be produced in Commons and delivered at specific times, McQuarrie said.

Christopher Cox, spokesperson for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that although the H5N1 avian influenza virus — a subtype of the influenza A virus — currently does not have the capacity to spread easily from person to person, preparations by universities for a potential pandemic are logical.

“It’s impossible to predict whether the current avian influenza virus will ever mutate into a form that could cause a pandemic,” Cox said in an e-mail. “However, most experts agree that there will likely be another pandemic at some point. It makes sense that colleges, communities, hospitals and the general public take steps now so that we can be as prepared as possible when the next pandemic comes.”

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