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UCF Preparing Plan to Cope with Potential Pandemic Flu Outbreak

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By Chad Binette

The University of Central Florida has joined companies and governments nationwide in preparing a plan to cope with a potential pandemic flu outbreak.

UCF employees are working together to determine how to best care for ill students and anticipate when campuses would have to be closed if a pandemic flu outbreak were to reachCentral Florida. They also are determining how they would continue essential services and provide as many classes as possible online during a pandemic.

The avian flu has yet to reach the United States, and health officials stress that there is no reason to panic even if it does. The disease is mainly carried by birds, and humans have become infected mainly through close contact with birds. To date, the virus has not been capable of spreading easily from person to person, and that type of transmission would be necessary for a pandemic to occur.

However, emergency and health workers want to be prepared in case an outbreak affects the region. Departments might need to operate with only 60 percent to 70 percent of their usual staffs, and they need to have essential supplies and protective gear ready in advance.

"We do not want anyone on campus to panic, but we want people to worry enough to ask themselves questions on what they would do in case we have to deal with a pandemic," said Jim Uhlir, director of Environmental Health and Safety. "Our emergency management structure and the prior preparations that we have made for hurricanes should provide a good foundation for a flu plan that will help ensure the safety and well-being of our students, faculty and staff."

Avian flu was the topic of a half-day forum Tuesday hosted by UCF's Metropolitan Center for Regional Studies. The event featured David Winn, who serves on the U.S. Department of State's Avian Influenza Action Group, a task force established earlier this year to coordinate the U.S. preparedness and response to the threat of a global flu pandemic. To read more about the forum, go to this story.

A pandemic flu epidemic could affect many departments on campus. Housing and Residence Life would continue housing students who do not return to their homes and might set up separate "sick zones" and "well zones" to try to prevent the disease from spreading.

Health Services would care for ill students and also is leading an effort to plan how to vaccinate large number of students quickly, in case an effective vaccine becomes available during a pandemic.

Working with the School of Nursing, Police Department and others on campus, Health Services may hold a vaccination drill in August. Instead of giving out shots, participants plan to hand out candy while simulating the process that would be used for vaccinations.

"We want to make sure that when such an event happens, UCF will be best prepared," said Dr. Michael Deichen, associate director of clinical services for Health Services.

If the campus was to be closed for an extended time, Course Development and Web Services could be called on to help the university continue classes online to avoid major disruptions to students' educational plans.

Following recommendations from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, UCF's emergency personnel and Continuity of Operations Team have divided up several tasks among member departments to create a pandemic flu plan. The team plans to present a draft plan to President John Hitt later this month.

Employees who would work directly with ill students will be fitted for respirators and trained on how to use them. Many other employees would be given basic surgical masks that do not require any advance training to use.

Individual departments are being asked to determine what supplies and services they would need during an outbreak and to make sure they have adequate plans to get them. They also should identify which employees might be the most likely to become ill or to have to care for other family members so that other employees could be trained to do their jobs. Some departments may need to consider hiring temporary employees or contractors or moving to alternate locations.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises people to wash their hands vigorously and often to try to avoid catching diseases. They also should stay at home from work when they are sick and avoid close contact with people who are sick.

Health Services has set up a Web site to help inform the UCF community about the avian flu: More information about the avian flu also is available at or

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