MCCC takes precautions for H1N1 virus

A new H1N1 flu vaccine will be available soon, in anticipation of a possible outbreak of the virus this fall.

When the virus was detected in the U.S. in April 2009, it was called “swine flu.” This was because tests showed that many of the genes were similar to the influenza viruses that occur in pigs (swine).

More studies have shown that the new virus affecting humans since April is actually very different from the illness in pigs. Since this discovery, the virus has been called H1N1 Flu.

Every year many people receive the seasonal flu vaccine, and when H1N1 was first detected researchers began developing a new vaccine for the virus. It is important to know that the seasonal flu vaccine will not protect against H1N1, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The vaccine is not available yet, but is expected to be ready by mid-October.

 Until recently, it was thought that two doses of the H1N1 vaccine would be required to be fully protected. On Sept. 11, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that people involved in clinical trials responded well to only one dose of the vaccine.

MCCC officials are up to date on the new vaccine and taking precautions to keep students and staff safe. There have been no confirmed cases of H1N1 at the college, and administrators are doing everything they can to keep it from spreading.

One of the most significant precautions MCCC is taking is developing a Pandemic Preparedness Plan. Director of Human Resources Molly McCutchan took a draft of the plan to the college’s Health and Safety Committee on September 15.

The draft is not fully approved by the committee, but there are four main objectives to it. First, is to protect the lives of the staff, students, faculty and visitors at MCCC. Second, is to effectively communicate with all of the involved parties throughout the duration of the pandemic. Next, is to provide for the continuation of as many college services as long as it is safe to do so. The final objective is to prevent the spread of infection through health and hygiene education.

“The general purpose of the plan is to guide the college in preparing for and responding to an influenza pandemic outbreak,” McCutchan said.

In addition to the pandemic plan, Director of Marketing Joe Verkennes said the college is doing a number of things to inform students and staff of the seriousness of H1N1.

He said the college communicates weekly with the Monroe County Health Department. There also is a link on MCCC’s home page to an H1N1 FAQ page, as well as links to important Web sites such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A letter was also sent to all staff and student email addresses with reminders to practice good hygiene.

Verkennes stresses the importance of checking their email to all staff and students. That is where any new information regarding H1N1 will be sent.

MCCC also will be encouraging staff and students to get the new vaccine for H1N1. On Wednesday, Sept. 16, three officials from the Monroe County Health Department met with administrators from the college.

Health Officer and Director Rebecca Head, along with Pandemic Flu Associates Carolyn Gardetto and Tatyana Ivanova, met with administrators to discuss having a mass vaccination clinic at MCCC. The immunizations will be held in the gymnasium and open to the public. They will most likely be held on Saturday, Nov. 7 or 14.

MCCC is also planning to distribute the vaccine on a school day, open only to the students at the college.

The cost of the vaccine will be free, but it has not been decided yet if there will be an administrative fee.

Verkennes said the Monroe County Health Department expects the virus to be mild. They also expect to only give one dose of the vaccine per person. This is awaiting confirmation; the only people that would require two shots, is anyone under the age of nine who hasn’t had flu shots.

At the September 16 meeting, the officials told the administrators that out of the 158,000 people in Monroe County, 70,000 are in the group of people advised to receive the H1N1 vaccine.

H1N1 is contagious and is spread from human to human. The H1N1 virus should not be confused with the seasonal flu. Even though many of the symptoms of H1N1 and seasonal flu are similar, the viruses are very different; these differences can be found at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site.

An email sent out to all staff and students at MCCC explained that anyone showing symptoms of H1N1 should stay home, especially if a fever of 100 degrees is present. It is important to stay home for an additional 24 hours after the fever has gone away- this is determined without the use of fever-reducing medications.

Some students and faculty may decide to ignore their flu-like symptoms, attending school anyway. This is strongly discouraged by the school; Verkennes said that if only a small group of students become infected, absences and make-up work will be handled through individual instructors, as they regularly are.

“If something more large-scale occurred, we would have to make different accommodations. We are in the process of working this out so that we would be prepared should it occur,” he said.

Verkennes also pointed out that since the college does not have a medical center, students will need to report any H1N1 illnesses to the college personally.

Students should not worry about missing classes, Verkennes said. He said he is sure that faculty will understand and work with students academically.

“That’s what we are all about; the focus on the students,” he said.

People 64 and older are most at risk for becoming infected with the seasonal flu. The major difference between seasonal flu and this new flu is that people 25 and younger are usually affected by H1N1.

 Besides the younger age group, pregnant women, infants 6-24 months, people who work in a health care or child care setting and people with serious medical conditions are also at a high risk of becoming infected with H1N1.

These medical conditions include; asthma, diabetes, suppressed immune systems, heart disease, kidney disease and neurocognitive and neuromuscular disorders. 

 MCCC student Nicole Bolster has had diabetes for most of her life, and is considering getting the new vaccine.

 “Honestly I feel pretty comfortable getting the vaccine, because I have diabetes. I’d rather be safe than sorry,” Bolster said.