NEWS

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April 28, 2009

U of C preps for chance of swine flu outbreak

The University is taking steps to safeguard against an outbreak of swine flu on campus, canceling all of Monday and Tuesday’s routine appointments at the Student Care Center (SCC) in order to focus on screening and testing for the disease, according to University officials.

Students with SCC appointments were told that only “acute” illnesses and injuries would be seen, in an effort to limit potential exposure to the swine flu and to divert resources to screening.

Security guards with liquid hand disinfectant have also been posted at all entrances to the Medical Center, requiring that everyone who enters sterilize their hands.

Vice President for Campus Life Kim Goff-Crews sent out an e-mail to the University community Monday night detailing the University’s response to the disease, which includes setting up a “satellite location” to screen for swine flu on the fourth floor of the South Ellis Avenue parking structure, located on the corner of East 55th Street.

The e-mail said that anyone who has been in “contact with Mexico” and is experiencing swine flu symptoms should go to the location. It did not mention that the SCC had canceled pre-existing appointments. SCC director Kristine Bordenave said three nurses and two doctors or nurse practitioners will be staffing the location.

“There are no indications [of swine flu] here at the University, or in Chicago, or Illinois,” University spokesman Steve Kloehn said, “but, as concern rises, the University is preparing, because these things move quickly. We want to be ready.”

According to Bordenave, the SCC received 300 calls from people worried they had contracted the virus by noon Monday.

She said each was assessed and anybody who still thought they had the flu was seen.

The resources needed to address these patients caused the cancellation of Monday’s appointments, she said, and Tuesday’s appointments were canceled for the same reason. SCC appointments scheduled later in the week could be canceled if demand at the satellite location is high enough.

Bordenave added that students who had their appointments canceled would be able to reschedule them once the demand at the satellite location dies down.

The e-mail explains that the University has plans in place to address a flu pandemic and that a subcommittee representing members of the different health groups on campus, Undergraduate Student Housing, and other units, “will continue to meet as long as the swine flu presents a threat.”

Stephen G. Weber, director of infection control at the Medical Center and hospital epidemiologist, offered an opinion as to why the SCC has canceled routine appointments and set up the satellite location:

“The SCC has limited physical space, and, depending on the number of patients who came in with symptoms and case histories, the case burden may have been too large.”

Weber said he does not know the details of the current plans and said he will be briefed on the situation Tuesday morning.

Third-year Chris Anderson, who had an SCC appointment scheduled for Monday, said he received word from the SCC that it was canceled “about an hour and a half before my appointment.”

“When I did call them back, they did not reschedule my appointment and they told me I had to wait until next Monday to reschedule,” Anderson said. Anderson had scheduled the appointment about two weeks ago for a rash on his arm that he said was not urgent.

“I don’t understand why they felt it so urgent to cancel all appointments,” Anderson said.

Fourth-year Emma Scripps called the SCC to try and reschedule a tuberculosis immunization she was scheduled to get Monday afternoon, only to find that it had been canceled.

“They didn’t tell me why they had canceled all the appointments,” she said. “They hadn’t developed this procedure when I made this appointment late last week.”

Her appointment was rescheduled for next week.

Robert Daum, professor of infectious diseases, told the Maroon that little is known about the outbreak of swine flu, called H1N1, that originated in Mexico, where it is believed to have killed almost 150 people.

“It’s not clear whether it’s particularly nasty,” he said. “It’s not clear whether the new virus represents the flu doing more than its normal business. It’s not clear whether the current vaccine, which contains a strain related to this so-called swine flu, will be effective.”

The virus has spread to the United States, infecting people in New York, California, Texas, Ohio, and Kansas, as well as to Canada, although no deaths have been attributed to swine flu outside of Mexico.

“There’s no evidence of it in Illinois yet,” Daum said.

­—Additional reporting by Ella Christoph, Louise Lerner, Michael Lipkin, and Alison Sider