May 1, 2009

Two Medical Center employees deemed probable swine flu victims

[img id="77680" align="alignleft"] In response to the possible infection of two University of Chicago Medical Center employees with swine flu, known as H1N1 influenza A, as well as further suspected infections in Chicago, the University has stepped up prevention measures for the virus.

As announced in an e-mail to the University community Wednesday night, the University has moved its swine flu screening center to the Student Care Center (SCC) and shifted students' appointments to the Duchossois Center for Advanced Medicine (DCAM) through Friday. The relocation will most likely continue as long as the flu is present on campus.

The e-mail also announced that two employees at the Medical Center are likely infected with swine flu and are resting at home. The employees, whose jobs were described as “administrative” by University spokesman Steve Kloehn, do not treat or see patients.

Regarding the employees’ conditions, Kloehn said, “[It is] important to note that the CDC has not yet done the definitive test that would confirm the diagnosis, but in a news conference [Wednesday], the Illinois Department of Public Health noted that after a certain level of testing, the likelihood becomes very high. We are at that point.”

As of Thursday night, the CDC had not confirmed that either employee has swine flu, and Kloehn said that many of the patients the hospital has seen with H1N1-like symptoms had type-B influenza, a seasonal virus. 41 Illinois residents are suspected of having the virus.

SCC Director Kristine Bordenave said that none of the faculty, students, and staff who have come to the screening center are suspected of having the flu. She said around 90 people—mostly faculty and staff—have been screened per day since the screening center opened on Tuesday.

Stephen Weber, assistant professor of infectious diseases and director of the Infection Control Program at the Hospital, said the Medical Center has a bio-outbreak response plan, created in 2002 after 9/11, which is continuously updated. “We’re seeing the benefits,” he said. “We’re happy to report so far that the challenges we’re seeing are the ones we predicted. We’ve been through this."

According to Bordenave, the Medical Center is asking Hospital patients’ family members to rethink visiting and is screening employees who are displaying symptoms.

Students, faculty, and staff who feel sick have been asked to stay at home, drink fluids and rest rather than meet personal and academic obligations. Vice President for Campus Life and Dean of Students Kimberly Goff-Crews said her office will work with students who miss class if they become ill.

Though there are currently no cases, any students suspected of having swine flu who live in dormitories will be relocated to one of two locations being prepared by the administration. These locations are not being revealed in order to protect the privacy of any students moved there, although an e-mail was sent to International House residents stating that two floors of the building were designated by administrators as a “secondary housing isolation area” should infected students fill an as-yet unknown primary site.

The University is trying “to make sure that people who are sick [won’t] be sharing a dorm room with other people until we know more about what this illness is going to do,” Bordenave said. “We didn’t want to ignore the possibility that it can change. We don't have a lot of cases yet. This could change in two weeks, certainly.”

The virus hasn't been as tenacious in America as initial reports from Mexico suggested, though the swine flu’s strength is still undetermined, Weber said. “We don’t know the virulence of the strain. We don’t know truly how severe the disease is. Mortality can’t be assessed yet,” he said. “With a population of 19 million people in Mexico, even 100 deaths may not be statistically significant.”

Bordenave agreed. “Most people feel like there’s a low likelihood that this is anything that’s any more concerning than any other flu,” she said.

The University set up a webpage with information on its policies regarding swine flu.