Swine flu outbreak probable, doctor says

Queen's is monitoring absentee rates on campus, Director of Environmental Health and Safety says

Students need to prepare for an H1N1 outbreak this fall, Dr. Gerald Evans said.

Evans, chief of the infectious diseases division at Kingston General and Hotel Dieu hospitals and associate professor in the School of Medicine, said flu season in Canada is starting earlier than normal and is expected to come out strong.

“Over the last 10 to 15 years our flu season typically starts in mid-January and we’re in October right now,” he said, adding that the number of cases across the country is high. “We’ve given up counting.”

Evans said he thinks older people have been exposed to flus with similarities to the H1N1 strain before, which might make them more immune to catching the swine flu.

“The attack rates are way higher in people under 20 because there’s virtually no one under 20 who has seen anything like it before,” he said.

The virus has an attack rate of 25 per cent among adults and about 60 per cent among children and young people, he said.

Evans said although only a few cases have been reported at Queen’s, he expects a much larger outbreak especially with so many students living in residence.

Students should get the flu shot when it becomes available on campus, he said.

“This is going to be a safe vaccine and it’s going to be enormously useful.”

Queen’s Health, Counselling and Disability Services Medical Director Suzanne Billing said there have already been a few reported cases of H1N1 on campus.

“We … expect that the majority of cases will occur over the next four to six weeks,” she said, adding that the University has been preparing for an outbreak since the spring.

Queen’s is monitoring absentee rates on campus, Director of Environmental Health and Safety Dan Langham said, adding that the University will decide on how to respond based on absentee rates.

“We’re getting information from Health, Counselling and Disability Services about what they’re seeing within the clinic, information from residences about level of illness and we’re asking departments to report to human resources when staff are off with influenza,” he said.

If absentee rates reach about 20 per cent, the University will move to invoke its emergency management plan, Langham said.

“Our emergency management plan is an all-hazards plan,” he said. “It can be used to respond to any emergency.”

The plan has existed since the province’s ice storm of 1998 and was updated last December, Langham said.

The response could include introducing new cleaning protocol and more posters and communication on health issues, he said.

“We’re not looking at class cancellations or closures at this time,” he said. “We’re looking at making decisions that would allow the University to continue to function.”

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