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Posted at 11:30 AM ET, 01/ 8/2010

How one university (using an ibis) handled the swine flu outbreak

By Valerie Strauss

My guest today is University of Miami President Donna Shalala, who documents how her institution dealt with last fall’s swine flu outbreak.

By Donna E. Shalala
Beginning in the spring of 2009, when we first heard about the threat of an outbreak of swine flu (H1N1), the University of Miami began planning for a pandemic and working diligently according to the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Miami-Dade County Health Department in order to prepare for mass immunization.

This was especially important for a university campus, since we were warned that college-age students were among the populations that were most vulnerable to be affected by a potential pandemic.

The university’s Student Health Service and Office of Student Affairs coordinated overall efforts, and the university began a “full-court press.” Our efforts got under way months before we had the vaccine in hand.

They included an educational campaign utilizing our mascot, Sebastian the Ibis, employing CDC terminology about “ILI” (influenza-like illnesses), and recommending traditional hygiene guidelines to prevent the spread of infection.

We highlighted a specially designed Web page with links to the CDC recommendations on the university web site. Signs were posted throughout campus urging those who feel ill not to come to work or go to class, and to abide by recommendations for self-isolation. We included this messaging in orientation programs and other large public group meetings and events. In addition, over 200 hand sanitizers were ordered and placed all over UM’s campuses.

In all areas, UM made plans for business continuity as well as academic flexibility in case of an outbreak, and prepared residence halls, dining rooms, and campus shuttles with updated hygiene practices.

Thanks to a close relationship and collaboration with the county's Health Department, we received our first H1N1 vaccines on Oct. 15, and within two business days we began offering them to our university population.

Our Student Health Service utilized its online appointment system, which allowed us to disseminate information quickly and adjust staffing to accommodate vaccination appointments. This kept us nimble and able to respond quickly to demand. It also allowed us to upload data from our system quickly to the Florida Shots tracking Web site, as requested by the state. Thanks to our dean of the School of Nursing and Health Studies, we received help administering the doses.

Building on the success of the online appointment system—which minimized disruption to recipients’ schedules and all but eliminated wait time—UM found creative ways to remove barriers to immunizing people.

UM brought the vaccinations to people – by setting up in residence halls, high-traffic areas such as the Richter Library and Starbucks, at numerous fairs at the Miller School of Medicine campus, and even in parking lots to reach commuter students.

Overall, we received 8,350 doses and immunized over 5,000 individuals in just six weeks. We were able to return 1,450 doses to the county Health Department. The cases we did have were mostly mild, and our numbers have followed national and state trends. We continue to offer the vaccines through the flu season and update our Web site weekly with any new information from the CDC.

Donna E. Shalala served as president of Hunter College of the City University of New York from 1980 to 1987, as chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison from 1987 to 1993, and starting in 1993, as U.S. Health and Human Services secretary. She held that post for eight years before going to the University of Miami.

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By Valerie Strauss  | January 8, 2010; 11:30 AM ET
Categories:  Health  | Tags:  swine flu, university of miami  
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