Information on Common Health Concerns

Influenza

BIRD FLU, PANDEMIC FLU, ANNUAL FLU, AND IC PREPAREDNESS

The Ithaca College CERT (Campus Emergency Response Team), formed in 2005 to respond to a range of campus emergencies, has been developing the College's Pandemic Influenza Preparedness plan over the past months.

The group, headed by Student Affairs & Campus Life Vice President Brian McAree, includes representatives from Academic Affairs, the Health Center, the Counseling Center, Finance and Administration, Public Safety, Residential Life, Facilities, Media Relations, and the College Counsel's office. It will function within the State and County Incident Management systems to insure a timely, coordinated, and effective response to pandemic influenza if, or when, it occurs.

To understand the concern about pandemic influenza it is important to appreciate the relationship between the several categories of flu that have been in the news recently:

  •  Annual (epidemic) influenza usually spreads through the northeast every winter, infecting up to 20% of the population and causing a 7-12 day illness characterized by fever, cough, headache, and muscle pain. A flu shot can prevent infection in about 85% of individuals, and because most people have some acquired resistance to these flu strains already, only infants, the elderly, and those with chronic illness are susceptible to serious complications. Nonetheless, ordinary annual influenza kills over 35,000 Americans each year.
  • Avian or bird flu is a different strain of the influenza virus occurring in waterfowl and several other animal species, capable of causing very severe illness in even previously healthy people if they become infected. There have been over 200 reported cases of bird flu in humans, over half of them fatal. Most cases have occurred in individuals who have had direct contact with poultry and none so far have occurred in the US .

The viruses responsible for Annual and Avian types of flu are related, but are not identical. Most importantly, the avian variety has not developed the ability to easily spread from person to person at this point. The worry is that it might.

Since we have been tracking influenza illness, and probably throughout all history, unusually virulent strains of flu have spread through human populations from time to time, most recently every decade or so. All of these more lethal strains are now believed to have originated in birds, and when such a strain develops the ability to efficiently spread from one human to another it can cause severe illness affecting very large populations. When the infection spreads across continents it is termed pandemic .

  • Pandemic influenza could occur if the current avian strain gains the ability to spread from person to person. Most flu experts agree that another pandemic will happen at some point, but no one knows whether it will arise from this avian virus or another one in some future year.

The consequences of some, but not all, flu pandemics have been catastrophic, with widespread illness and high mortality until enough of the population becomes resistant or the virus loses its potency. Our goal is to prepare for the worst.

CERT, working in cooperation with the Tompkins County Department of Health, is developing a comprehensive plan for the safety of IC students, faculty, and staff in the event of a serious influenza outbreak. The plan will include provisions for cancellation of classes, evacuation, housing, quarantine, protection against infection, medical care, educational continuity, and post-pandemic recovery.

TYPES OF INFLUENZA

Avian Flu
The Avian Flu (aka Bird Flu) is caused by influenza viruses that occur naturally among wild birds. The Asian highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza (HPAI) strain is deadly to domestic and some wild fowl, and has occasionally been spread to humans. This type of bird flu has not yet been found in the U.S.

Pandemic Flu
The Pandemic Flu is a human flu that causes a global outbreak, or pandemic, of serious illness. Because there is little natural immunity, the disease can spread easily from person to person. Currently, there is no pandemic flu.

Seasonal Flu
The Seasonal Flu (or flu) is a contagious viral infection that causes headache, fever, chills, cough or sore throat and body aches. Once again this year, the Health Department is closely monitoring the vaccine supply situation.

MORE ABOUT INFLUENZA

GENERAL