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Fending Off the Flu

North Park University Prevents H1N1

North Park University’s Emergency Management Team takes an aggressive stance on preventing H1N1

CHICAGO (September 16, 2009) ­– An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure—and that is the message North Park University and colleges across the nation are emphasizing as they work to keep the spread of H1N1 on their campuses at bay.

Although talk of the swine flu seemed to dwindle during the summer months, the back-to-school season brought a resurgence of concern about a potential pandemic, prompting the Center for Disease Control to issue guidelines for prevention for schools and businesses.

From displaying posters on bulletin boards and bathroom mirrors, to circulating electronic notifications, to installing hand sanitizer dispensers in highly trafficked areas such as the Helwig Recreation Center, North Park’s Emergency Management Team has taken every precaution against the illness, and continues to comply with the latest instructions of the CDC. In addition to educating students on H1N1 hygiene and encouraging those with symptoms to avoid classes and work settings, the University has also set aside several apartments on campus as quarantine units in the event of a flu outbreak.

Comprised of members of senior administration and staff, the Emergency Management Team is responsible for responding to crisis situations—from a campuswide loss of utilities, to natural disasters, to medical epidemics like H1N1.  Beyond communicating pertinent information to the campus and community, it ensures student safety and limits any long long-term negative impact of these events on the University.  North Park biology professor Jeff Nelson, professor of nursing Linda Duncan, and Director of Health Services Juanita Barrett, were invited to join this year. Nelson, an M.D., specializes in infectious diseases.

“Meeting several times this summer allowed us to discuss an approach with the campus team and public health officials before we see H1N1 on campus,” Nelson says.

Since H1N1 has been highly publicized as a national and international possibility, the group decided to make the virus the subject of its annual simulation activity. In 2008, it conducted a simulation surrounding a hypothetical flooding of the Chicago River—an event that subsequently took place last September.

North Park’s Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Carl Balsam calls the team’s preparedness for that occurrence “serendipitous.” Students and parents praised the University for its quick and efficient response.

Nevertheless, “No two experiences are the same,” Balsam notes. “We frame general guidelines for emergencies, but with the realization that if an incident does happen, we’ll still have to use a lot of judgment.”

Nelson says the most important preventative measure students, faculty, and staff can take against an H1N1 outbreak is also the simplest.

“Handwashing, handwashing, handwashing!”