Schools Brace for Fall Swine Flu Cases

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With students set to return to class today, UC Berkeley officials are preparing for an increase in H1N1 swine flu cases and are launching a public awareness effort that will approach full strength by early September.

According to campus officials, members of the UC Berkeley community should expect to see a campuswide e-mail from University Health Services as early as next week with information about the disease, which was classified as a global pandemic in June and is expected to spread faster in the fall and winter than it did in the spring.

"Beginning in the next week or so there's going to be a lot of communication on the campus," said Kim LaPean, communications manager for UHS.

Officials are unsure whether the flu, which has been relatively mild since its outbreak in spring 2009, will grow more severe. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicted in a series of Aug. 20 reports that more communities may be affected in the upcoming fall and winter flu season, resulting in "wider transmission and possibly greater impact."

UHS is anticipating an increase in flu patients on campus and will begin passing out flyers and coordinating with heavily trafficked campus hubs like dining halls and the Recreational Sports Facility to inform students about preventing and coping with the disease.

"We want to make sure that we can put it out in a variety of ways but not fatigue everyone with the same messages," LaPean said.

While UHS will not be hiring new staff to accommodate for infected patients, she said the campus health service will be able to use its experience with seasonal flu to develop a model for dealing with the disease.

"I would say we are definitely prepared for an increase, that more students are more likely to be sick," LaPean said. "Because we have the seasonal flu, we already know how that impacts our services."

Health professionals said students who contract the disease should practice home treatments unless more serious symptoms arise-including difficulty breathing, chest pain or severe vomiting.

In an Aug. 20 report addressing the flu on college campuses, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that institutions of higher education ask students, faculty and staff to isolate themselves until 24 hours after a fever subsides.

To avoid contracting the disease, people are encouraged to wash their hands with soap and receive a much-anticipated H1N1 vaccination that the World Health Organization said could be ready for full distribution in October.

Should the vaccine arrive on time, UHS would be able to set up vaccination clinics, much like its seasonal flu clinics, to administer it. UHS has previously offered seasonal flu vaccines for $25, or $5 for those with the Student Health Insurance Plan. However, LaPean said there was no set cost for the H1N1 vaccine as of yet.

Local Schools Also Brace for Flu

The Berkeley Unified School District is also considering an option to operate voluntary, on-site vaccination clinics for its students, said district spokesperson Mark Coplan.

"It's very possible that we'll try to put some type of clinics there in the schools," he said.

District Superintendent Bill Huyett met with the city's acting health officer Tuesday to discuss the clinics and other strategies for the upcoming year. .

The city's Department of Health and Human Services worked with the district during the original outbreak. After a parent of children at Malcolm X Elementary School contracted the disease, a decision was made to temporarily close the school.

Coplan said schools would only be closed if enough teachers and students contract the disease to the point where normal instruction cannot continue.

"That's probably the only kind of dismissal we would see," he said.


Zach A. Williams is the assistant city news editor. Contact him at [email protected]

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