Preparing for a pandemic

The University makes plans for a possible influenza outbreak

Hand sanitizer is one way to prevent flu infection.
Hand sanitizer is one way to prevent flu infection.

In the event of an influenza pandemic, the University has a planned strategy, which includes providing adequate resources for campus services, prioritizing patients at the health centre, and communicating with students, staff and faculty about how to deal with influenza.

Michael Condra, director of Health, Counseling and Disability Services (HCDS), is a member of the university’s steering committee for pandemic preparation, which is developing strategies to provide support at the local level.

“All of us are fairly calm about the situation,” Condra said. “We do all the usual stuff that we, in the health community, can do--hand washing, personal hygiene and self-care.”

The seasonal flu hits Canadians every year in November and usually lasts until the end of winter.

The last influenza pandemic in Canada occurred in 1968.

“The difference with the impending pandemic is that this time the speed of transportation is much greater,” Condra said, adding that the planning and preparation for this expected pandemic has been going on for a number of years at the level of the World Health Organization.

“Scientists call [influenza] a messy virus. It can mutate its structure fairly easily, which causes different strains of the flu every year,” Condra said.

To combat these different strains, new vaccinations are available every year.

“What vaccinates you this year may not help next year,” Condra said.

An emergency planning committee is developing plans to keep things running smoothly at Queen’s should a pandemic occur. The committee is working with Queen’s Environmental Health and Safety and the HCDS to make sure these services have the resources they need to continue their functions.

“We’re making plans for how to see patients that are infected,” Condra said, adding that measures to separate patients infected with the flu from other patients will be put in place.

“Because [HCDS] is a department that provides health care to students, preparation is very important,” Condra said, adding that extra supplies, masks and gowns are being provided to the LaSalle Building.

Staff at LaSalle attended a seminar two weeks ago from the Public Health Department about self-care and dealing with a pandemic outbreak.

A pandemic would also affect the functioning of everyday University services, such as the library and the JDUC, he said.

“Every area must have a plan,” Condra said. “A pandemic won’t just affect students; staff and faculty will be infected, as well.”

Condra said planning will take into account the possibility that a significant number of staff could be infected.

In a utilitarian approach, several departments and services will need to prioritize their services. If resources are scarce, only the most essential services will be provided, Condra said.

“For example … it’s more important that we have more resources for counseling than learning strategies,” Condra said. “People will need support and advice.” Condra said students can help prevent a pandemic by getting the annual vaccine, and practicing proper self-care, such as frequent hand-washing.

Dan Langham, director of the Environmental Health and Safety at the University, said strategies to deal with a possible pandemic are currently in the planning stages.

“Whether [a pandemic] occurs or not, we have to plan for it,” Langham said. “We’re actively putting together strategies for dealing with a pandemic, should one occur.”

Langham said Environmental Health and Safety will have to focus on its more imminent functions.

“Our service to the University is to dispose of hazardous waste. During a pandemic we’d have to suspend some of our training.”

Communication is also an important part of the committee’s planning, Langham said, and information will be made available to the public as complications and solutions arise.

“It’s important to prevent panic,” he said. “People need to be informed about all the strategies.”

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