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What to do about the flu
Chancellor, University Health Services take steps to respond to potential pandemic

| 20 September 2006

For the moment, there's no influenza pandemic affecting humans anywhere in the world. Experts, however, predict one will occur somewhere, sometime down the road, and Berkeley isn't waiting idly for an outbreak. With University Health Services (UHS) in the lead, campus officials have spent the past year on preparedness planning, from monitoring occurrences of avian flu worldwide to educating faculty, staff, and students about how best to protect ourselves.

As he wrote this week in a message to the campus community, Chancellor Birgeneau has established a UC Berkeley Pandemic Flu Preparedness Task Force, led by UHS and including representatives from both the academic and administrative areas of the campus. In addition to tracking avian flu, he notes, UHS has been training campus medical providers, testing a rapid-response vaccination-clinic structure during fall flu clinics, and working with campus experts from the School of Public Health, the Center for Infectious Disease Preparedness, the Office of Emergency Preparedness, and state and local public-health authorities.

He adds, however, "there is still much work to be done." The task force, he explains, will "move us forward in creating a comprehensive Pandemic Preparedness Flu Prevention and Response Plan." An essential part of such a plan will be communication, and UHS has created a website with FAQs, contact information, and links to additional online resources for those interested in learning more about the potential for pandemic influenza and the steps the campus is taking in response.

The UHS website notes that most known human cases of H5N1-type avian flu have resulted from "direct or close contact" with infected poultry, and that the spread of the disease from person to person has been very limited. Should the virus change in a way that makes it more easily transmitted among humans, however, a pandemic could develop.

There is no cure for the flu, and a vaccine for pandemic flu is not likely to be widely available until months after an outbreak. If you have flu symptoms, you are advised to stay home. Meanwhile, discuss the potential for a pandemic with family and friends, and make plans for staying in touch and for ensuring that dependents and pets will continue to be cared for if their providers get sick.

"I encourage you to stay informed," writes Birgeneau, "and take advantage of the campus resources available to you." For more information, visit the UHS flu website at www.uhs.berkeley.edu/home/news/pandemic_planning.shtml.