Elizabeth Bonham, staff writer
While the CDC has classified the recent outbreak of the Swine Flu as a level four alert and emergency response measures have been enacted, neither the state of North Carolina nor Warren Wilson College are at risk of infection at this time.
The outbreak, which allegedly began in Mexico this March, is an endemic strain passed from pigs to humans as an airborne pathogen. As of Wednesday morning, in addition to the 159 deaths reported in Mexico, the first death within the United States border occurred. The infant victim caught the flu in Mexico and died on the border of Texas shortly after. Since the outbreak began, the CDC has confirmed multiple cases of the flu in ten states. As of Monday morning, there are 91 total confirmed cases in the United States alone.
Although it was recently published in the Asheville Citezen-Times that there were two suspected cases of the Flu in Buncombe county, these reports are currently undergoing analysis but probably false.
Karen Wineberg of the WWC health center said of concerns surrounding a local outbreak, “all that ‘suspected cases’ means is that they have enough symptoms that you want them tested.” To the lay public, medical jargon makes the incidence sound real when it is only a slight risk, she said. If these two reports do test negative, there will be no cases in North Carolina to date.
Despite the relatively low risk, the health center recommends taking health precautions and remains confident that they are equipped to deal with a negative situation should that unlikely event occur.
Beyond the concerns of human community members, the health center and farm crew are taking care to protect the livestock from risk of infection. In an open letter to campus, director of occupational safety and training Terry Blackwell affirmed that the farm is well equipped and has taken precautions to avoid health risk to both animals and humans involved. Despite the unlikelyhood of a campus outbreak, “the Farm is implementing more stringent bio-security measures for our swine operation. The Farm asks that the community please avoid the central farm area, particularly the swine buildings. Contact with our swine herd is limited solely to Farm crew until further notice,” he said.
Because the CDC has increased the virus alert level, as of Monday afternoon they recommend against unnecessary international travel. Due in part to this elevated caution, the study abroad course ANT 377: field study in Oaxaca led by Dr Benjamin Fienberg planned for June has been postponed to winter break of 2009. Naomi Otterness of the international programs office said that the typical policy is to follow the CDC warnings, and additionally she is heeding parental concerns and would not want to endanger any one. All students enrolled in the course have been given the option to go this winter, or at some other time on their own.
Besides the postponement of the course trip, this recent flu scare is effecting campus minimally, and is not cause for panic.