Federal officials declared a national health emergency Sunday following the identification of 20 cases of swine flu — a new form of influenza — in five states.
Here on campus, Yale University Health Services has a “robust emergency plan” that can be deployed in the event of a pandemic flu, said Paul Genecin, the director of Yale University Health Services. But he added that at present, there is no indication swine flu is a pandemic.
“We have a large supply of anti-viral medication and diagnostic kits on hand,” he said Sunday. “We have the capacity to treat large numbers of people — the University has resources to create in-patient bed space if we need to, but we really don’t think at this point there is cause for alarm.”
Nevertheless, Genecin said the University will issue an announcement Monday asking individuals with symptoms of respiratory illness to call Urgent Care and the Yale Health Plan.
This will be especially important, he emphasized, for those who recently spent time in Mexico, California, Kansas, Ohio, Texas or New York — where cases of swine flu been confirmed. He explained that, unlike seasonal allergies, swine flu causes, among other things, bodily aches, fever, severe malaise, chills and in some cases nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
Still, he stated that the national health emergency should not be cause for panic.
“It’s a bit of an unfortunate name — it doesn’t mean the sky is falling,” he said of the national emergency. “It doesn’t mean the plague is in our midst or that it’s the pandemic that is going to kill everyone. It means the government is at the ready to send out … resources and money where it is needed.”
As of Sunday, 81 have died in Mexico from what officials believe to be swine flu, though only 20 of the cases have been confirmed. On this side of the boarder, all swine flu cases identified have been mild, with only one requiring hospitalization.
The cases of swine flu that have arisen are particularly concerning because they occurred in otherwise healthy young adults, whereas influenza typically affects the young, the elderly and the immuno-suppressed, according to the World Health Organization.
Furthermore, given that the virus is already in multiple places, it will not be possible to contain it geographically, Genecin said.
Despite the state of emergency, students interviewed — including two who had vacationed in Mexico over Spring Break — were not particularly worried about having contracted the disease.
“I’m not too concerned,” Michelle Maust ’11 said. “The cases reported have been pretty mild and I left there six weeks ago, so I don’t think at the time there were many known cases.”
Kristy Escalante ’11, who hails from the Yucatan Peninsula in southeastern Mexico, also said neither she nor her family are concerned about the flu as they do not have much interaction with pigs. (Humans contract the recently detected strain of swine flu from contact with infected pigs or humans.)
In any case, the incubation period for swine flu is much shorter than six weeks, Genecin said: It typically takes a week for individuals exposed to the virus to become sick, at which point they are generally contagious for a week.
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has determined the virus is spreading from human to human, it has not yet discovered how it is doing so. Consequently, the agency is urging individuals to adopt a range of precautionary measures to limit its spread, including covering the nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing; washing one’s hands often with soap and water, especially after sneezing or coughing; and avoiding touching the eyes, nose or mouth.
The particular strain of the virus, swine influenza A (H1N1), has never before been detected in either humans or pigs. While currently, no vaccines exist to protect humans from swine flu, they are available to prevent it in pigs. Federal officials said Sunday they did not believe the outbreak to be an act of bioterrorism.