25, No. 17, March 16, 2006
Campus prepares for possible avian
Sharita Forrest, Assistant Editor
photo to enlarge
by L. Brian Stauffer
fighter Kip Mecum, director of emergency planning in the
Division of Public Safety, leads the Infectious
Disease Work Group, which is preparing action plans
for the campus in the event that the avian influenza
virus becomes transmissible between people. Federal,
state and local officials, as well as peer universities,
are developing similar plans to monitor and control
a possible outbreak of the disease among humans.
hope the next flu season flies by as relatively uneventfully as this
winter’s flu season has done. However, amid growing concern
about the potential spread of the H5N1 avian flu virus among bird populations
worldwide, communities throughout the U.S., including the UI’s
Urbana campus, are preparing comprehensive action plans to mitigate
the effects of a potential outbreak of the disease among humans.
A naturally occurring virus among birds, the H5N1 virus usually does not infect
humans. Although the virus has not been detected among birds in the U.S. yet
and is not expected to migrate to North America until fall or later, it is endemic
among flocks in Africa, Europe, the Near East and Southeast Asia.
Following a directive from the U.S. federal government, state and local officials,
health-care facilities and emergency services agencies are preparing pandemic
response plans in the event the H5N1 virus mutates to a form capable of sustained
human-to-human transmission and becomes a global public health concern. Peer
universities such as Pennsylvania State University, Stanford University and the
University of Minnesota have developed or are developing response plans for their
At the UI’s Urbana campus, the Infectious Disease Work Group is updating
the Infectious Disease Response/Incident Action Plan, a comprehensive program
of monitoring, communication and containment protocols that UI officials would
deploy in accordance with directives from state officials, including the Illinois
Department of Public Health, emergency services agencies and Carle Foundation
Hospital, the hospital designated by IDPH to coordinate responses to medical
crises in Region 6 of Illinois.
The current draft UI plan outlines protocols that would be undertaken in three
phases: if a confirmed case of human-to-human transmission of avian flu were
to occur anywhere, if a suspected or confirmed case appeared in the contiguous
United States or in the Midwest, and if a case were confirmed on campus and had
the potential to disrupt normal university operations, such as classes, administrative
functions and events.
Kip Mecum, chair of the work group and director of emergency planning in the
Division of Public Safety, said that nearly two dozen campus units have responsibilities
under the plan, such as conducting educational programs about symptoms and self-protection;
dispensing immunizations or antiviral medications; addressing research and university
operating concerns; training and equipping essential personnel with proper safety
equipment; and limiting exposure to contagion through modified work schedules,
travel restrictions, sanitation programs or quarantines.
If the avian flu were to infect large numbers of people in the area, current
plans include the use of UI facilities such as Memorial Stadium and Assembly
Hall as a “surge” hospital facility and a mass inoculation center,
respectively. A surge hospital could accommodate large numbers of patients, such
as would occur during a pandemic, once the capacity of local hospitals has been
exceeded. A mass inoculation center would distribute supplies of a vaccine from
the Strategic National Stockpile, a reserve of large quantities of medicines
and medical supplies that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
distributes in cooperation with federal, state and local agencies to people in
areas affected by public health emergencies, such as flu epidemics, terrorist
attacks and natural disasters.
Dr. Robert Palinkas, the director of McKinley Health Center, said that events
such as the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the emergence of Severe Acute
Respiratory Syndrome, a viral disease that first emerged in Southern China during
2002, have underscored the necessity of emergency response planning.
“The plans have gotten more robust; there’s much more flesh on them
than there was before,” Palinkas said. “With SARS, we were sort of
planning as the cases were emerging. The university has a lot of brainpower and
a lot of capacity to address such issues, has a done a lot of networking and
planning, and has established a process where it would respond as fast if not
faster than the rest of the community. The university is not likely to be caught
unawares, and its response would be integrated with the greater community. It’s
very possible that all our planning might never come in to play, and we’re
hoping that’s the case.”
Representatives from the Office of Student Affairs, Environmental Health and
Safety Division, the Institute for Genomic Biology, McKinley Health Center, University
Housing Division and other campus units are refining the plan with input from
the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District and the Champaign County Emergency
Management Agency. Mecum said the work group expects to have a final draft by
May 1, when the plan will be sent to unit leaders and experts on campus for comments
According to the World Health Organization, since the H5N1 avian flu virus surfaced
in 2003, 175 people have contracted it through direct contact with infected birds,
and 95 people have died. Experts report that the risk of people contracting the
virus is very low, even in countries that have large populations of infected
birds, but people are being cautioned to avoid direct contact with dead or sick
birds, their feathers and their feces.
A commercial vaccine to protect people against avian flu is not available currently
because a pandemic form of the virus must emerge and be identified before a vaccine
can be developed.
How does seasonal flu differ from pandemic flu?
- Outbreaks follow predictable seasonal patterns; occurs annually, usually
during winter in temperate climates.
- Occurs rarely (three times in the 20th century, most recently in 1968).
- People usually have some immunity built up from previous exposure.
- No previous exposure; little or no pre-existing immunity.
- Healthy adults usually not
at risk for serious complications.
- Healthy people may be at increased risk for serious complications.
- Health systems can
usually meet public and patient needs.
- Health systems may be overwhelmed.
- Vaccine developed based on known flu strains and available for annual
- Vaccine probably would not be available in the early stages of a pandemic.
- Adequate supplies of antiviral medications are usually available.
- Effective antiviral medications may be in limited supply.
- Average U.S. deaths approximately 36,000 per year.
- Number of deaths could be quite high (e.g. U.S. death toll in 1918
was approximately 500,000).
- Symptoms: fever, cough, runny nose, muscle
pain. Deaths often caused by complications, such as pneumonia.
causes modest societal impact and manageable impact on domestic and world
May cause major impact on society (for example, widespread travel
restrictions, closings of schools and businesses, cancellation of large
public gatherings). Potential for severe impact on domestic and world
Source: U.S. Department of Health & Human
Additional information on pandemic and avian influenza is available on
the Web at www.pandemicflu.gov.