Administration continues response to swine flu outbreak
The Washington University administration e-mailed its graduating class of 2009 on May 11 asking students and family members who have experienced flu-like symptoms in the past seven days “to refrain from attending commencement and related activities in the interest of public health,”—a request made based on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This recent e-mail is part of the University’s response to the outbreak of the H1N1 virus—more commonly known as swine flu.
An earlier e-mail announcement was sent to all students, faculty and staff on April 27 to inform the community that the University is making efforts to address the issue of swine flu, one day after the U.S. government declared a public health emergency due to several confirmed cases within the country.
The e-mail assured the University community that, at the time of the announcement, there had been no cases of swine flu reported on the University campus or in the state of Missouri. Since then, however, Missouri has had 14 confirmed cases and four probable cases of swine flu as of May 11.
Similar to the seasonal flu, the e-mail noted that symptoms of the swine flu include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue.
Students with flu-like symptoms were ordered to report to Student Health Services immediately, while faculty and staff were told to see their private physician.
The University-wide announcement also provided recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for those experiencing flu-like symptoms to keep others safe by avoiding crowds and public transportation, covering one’s nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing and throwing away one’s used tissues into the trash.
According to the e-mail, the University has assembled its Emerging Infectious Disease Task Force, led by Assistant Professor of Medicine Steven Lawrence, to monitor the flu outbreak and keep the community informed and updated.
Summer abroad program terminated
Though the campus has had no reported cases and has experienced little visible health-related changes as a result of the outbreak, the situation has had a direct effect on some University students.
On April 29, the University canceled its Spanish Language and Latin American Studies summer study abroad program in Puebla, Mexico following the CDC’s recommendation to avoid traveling to Mexico for unnecessary reasons.
The administration e-mailed the program’s participants earlier to inform them that the fate of the trip was being discussed before finally notifying them of its decision to cancel the program.
16 students had enrolled in the study abroad program to Mexico.
Following the cancellation, the University credited the students’ deposits to their student accounts. The students were also provided with the option to switch into another study abroad program and there was a group meeting to help them with the decision.
Several students with high-level proficiency in Spanish were permitted to participate in the study abroad program in Quito, Ecuador.
Freshman Christina Correa, a student already registered in the Ecuador program, estimates that approximately half of those who were planning to go to Mexico are now going to Ecuador, though she believes there are several students who have decided not to study abroad this summer.
Sophomore Marissa Smith is one of the students who eventually enrolled in the Ecuador program after the Mexico program was canceled.
“Canceling the Mexico program completely changed my summer plans at the last minute. It was frustrating, but I understand that they had to make a decision with our health in mind,” she said. “I decided to go on the Ecuador program, because it was very comparable to the Mexico one,” Smith said.
“I’m excited about Ecuador and I’m sure it will be a great experience,” Smith added.
Other universities, including Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois, also canceled their summer programs to Mexico. The University of Missouri-Columbia recommended that its students who are currently abroad in Mexico City to return to the U.S.
Japanese precautions delay students’ travels
The swine flu outbreak also has affected the travels of several University students heading to Japan.
Freshman Ryang Cho was delayed in Osaka during his flight home last week when all passengers on board were required to remain in quarantine for approximately 40 minutes and have their photos taken and temperatures measured by authorities.
Sophomores Brian Chen and Joshua Gross had been aboard a flight headed to Narita from Detroit that carried the first confirmed case of swine flu for Japan.
Airline officials first made efforts to ensure that no passengers on the plane had a fever. All passengers were required to fill out their home contact information so that they can be contacted later. Sick passengers and those in nearby seats were transferred to the hospital to be quarantined.
“Me and my friend Brian were both given a clean bill of health and we went along our way,” Gross said.
The following day, however, a ward office official along with the manager of the hostel where Chen and Gross were staying met with them after learning that the two had been on the same flight as the passenger with the first confirmed case. Once the official had checked their temperatures, Chen and Gross were informed that they could not leave the hostel for the evening.
Gross had measured a slightly high temperature on the following day. Despite the fact that he showed no symptoms of swine flu, Gross was taken to the hospital, tested and quarantined. He was released the next day—though not without a $640 charge for his hospital stay.
The process had shortened the students’ vacation by a day and a half, according to Gross, but they are both doing well and have since continued with their travel plans in Japan.