Ready for an outbreak

Immediately after realizing that the swine flu virus would inevitably enter Oregon late last month, Portland State began preparing for the worst.

Immediately after realizing that the swine flu virus would inevitably enter Oregon late last month, Portland State began preparing for the worst.

Lindsay Desrochers, Portland State vice president of Finance and Administration, headed up a committee to focus on prevention, monitoring the virus’ movement, planning for outbreak scenarios and managing communication with the state of Oregon.

The committee’s active purpose centralizes on working with different departments to inform and to develop a response plan in the case of a campus outbreak.

“PSU has had a standing emergency management structure based on the National Incident Management System for years, so this group was formed quickly based on that existing plan,” Mark Gregory said.

Gregory is the associate vice president of Finance and Administration. He is second in command of the committee, under Desrochers.

Gregory said that according to public health officials the threat of swine flu hitting the campus is low to moderate, but they are still being cautious. 

“Our first goal is to slow the spread if any local cases arise, but several response actions are possible, including advising students on safest practices, providing medical testing and support, enhanced cleaning, hand sanitizer and other preventative measures,” Gregory said.

Portland State is unlikely to close its doors even in the case of an outbreak. Other schools in the region, including Western Oregon University and some schools in Forest Grove, temporarily suspended classes and activities in response to a potential case of the virus.

Oregon health officials are urging institutions to remain open and promote preventative care like hand washing.

Gregory said if there were a significant threat, they would seek advice from public health officials as to whether to close the school.

“We would consider the risks to specific populations, and look closely at upcoming campus events and activities that cause people to gather,” Gregory said.

Many critics claim that public institutions and the media are overreacting to the virus, however Gregory felt the action plan was cautious and appropriate.

“Early in the news coverage there was considerable focus on the cases in which people had died from this illness—so people were taking it very seriously,” Gregory said. “I think everyone has had an opportunity to evaluate the risk more clearly now.”

There is some concern that the H1N1 flu could return this fall. Regardless, Gregory said that this has been learning experience in how to handle situations involving infectious diseases.

“If this strain of virus turns out to be of limited impact we will nonetheless have used the opportunity to prepare for the next situation,” Gregory said.

The Centers for Disease Control advise to prevent the flu by covering coughs and sneezes with tissue and to wash hands regularly with soap and water, and avoid touching mouth, nose or eyes.

Also, if you do come down with symptoms of flu such as fever, vomiting, sore throat and cough the CDC advises staying home to keep the flu from spreading.