Burnett issues Swine Flu contingency plan

Claire Cote

Flu season has come early this year. Usually the bite of autumn is in the air and we’ve begun our Christmas shopping before it even crosses our minds, but this time it came without warning. The reason? This is no ordinary flu. Over the past month, swine flu, or H1N1, has spurred national concern, causing both political and domestic turmoil. Sales of hand sanitizer, cold and flu remedies, and even face masks have spiked since the outbreak.

On April 28 President Obama requested a soaring $1.5 billion in special funds to fight the illness, which has now reached pandemic levels. That same Tuesday, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in California, which has reported and confirmed 26 cases of the disease.

Although Orange County had no confirmed cases of H1N1, Saddleback President Tod Burnett issued a contingency plan for the college last Thursday.

“It is prudent for all of us on campus to be aware of the illness and its symptoms, as well as the college’s response plan in the event that the virus [should reach us],” Burnett said.

Swine flu is most commonly transmitted through the air or through touching a contaminated surface, then touching the nose or mouth. As most people have no immunity to this new virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is advising people to wash their hands frequently and to maintain a proactive attitude about staying healthy. The same idea is reiterated in President Burnett’ s plan, in which he recommends students pay special attention to cleanliness.

However, although a scare of this nature should never be taken lightly, experts are wondering just how necessary our current state of emergency is. The number of cases and rate of transfer of H1N1 are hardly staggering compared to the 35 to 50 million people who contract common influenza each year in the U.S. alone. The closest the disease has come to Orange County is the estimated eight cases in San Diego. Some Saddleback students feel there is no cause for alarm.

“Thousands of people die of the regular flu every year,” said Chad MacKenzie, 21, film production. “I don’t see why swine flu is causing so much panic.”

Many believe that the media is to blame for the unease. “I’m not worried about [swine flu] at all,” said John Anderson, 23, radio broadcasting/production. “It certainly doesn’t seem as dangerous as previous flu outbreaks, but has been really hyped up.”

President Burnett, however, is determined to be cautious.

“I believe that Saddleback’s best course of action is to be prepared to respond immediately and appropriately should anyone in our campus community be infected with the virus,” Burnett said.

Questions about the H1N1 virus can be directed to our Student Health Director, Brenda Frame, at (949) 582-4500, extension 4607, and questions about our emergency contingency plan can be directed to Campus Chief of Police Harry Parmer at extension 4585.