Scientists believe that it is only a matter of time until the next pandemic strikes. An influenza pandemic, according to the Members of the Avian Flu Committee, is a global disease outbreak that occurs when a new flu virus emerges and there is little or no immunity in the human population.
While the number of humans affected by avian influenza is extremely low, the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control say that the risk for bird flu becoming the next pandemic is high.
John Carroll University is putting together an Avian Influenza Pandemic Plan. This is not because the threat of avian influenza is high, rather, because it is necessary to be prepared for a pandemic.
According to the Avian Flu Committee, a pandemic could result in significant deaths and hospitalizations in the U.S. alone.
“We’re really preparing for another pandemic virus,” said Dean of Students Sherri Crahen.
The goal of the plan is to minimize the chance of human-to-human contact. Residence halls would close and academic departments would have to use alternate ways to deliver classes.
“Academic departments are just starting to talk about options in terms of how classes can be delivered,” said Crahen. For example, classes could be delivered online. However, labs pose a bit of a problem.
Since January and February are the normal flu season, labs may have to be carried over into the spring. Personnel would also wear masks to protect themselves.
Each department is creating a plan based on which tasks are the most important, the minimum amount of personnel needed to perform those tasks and which people are the most qualified. The business side of the issue, such as the delivery of goods and services, the amount of supplies at hand and outside contracts is also being considered.
Closing the University would be the worst case scenario, said Crahen. In addition to creating an emergency plan, the University is putting a focus on prevention of the virus.
“We really want to focus on education of how you prevent viruses from happening,” said Crahen.
Preventing the flu can be done by covering mouths when coughing and hand-washing. This education is seen in the “wash your hands” signs in restrooms on campus.
Even though the threat of avian influenza is low, the strain can be deadly, said Crahen. “The Public Health Department said that it’s in our best interest to be proactive. We would rather be prepared and have a plan than not have a plan,” she said.