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Pandemic Preparedness: Don’t Panic, Have a Plan


Recent outbreaks of viruses such as avian influenza A (H7N9) in China, the novel coronavirus Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV), and Ebola (Zaire strain) in West Africa bring to light an emerging threat that schools and colleges should be prepared to address. How ready is your school?

Unlike regional events such as hurricanes, earthquakes, or terrorist attacks, a pandemic is a recurring global event. In today’s world, where travel is readily available, what may start as a localised event can quickly spread across the country and across continents. During the past decade alone we have faced significant outbreaks of avian influenza A (H5N1), Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), and the “swine flu” (designated H1N1). The latter began in Mexico and spread to most countries, causing more than 18,000 deaths and disrupting travel and commerce around the world.

These outbreaks present governments and health officials with unique challenges. Properly diagnosing the viruses early can be difficult as symptoms mimic those of other ailments, as well as each other. Often the source of new strains can be difficult to identify, making control efforts challenging. Furthermore, if a virus has never been seen in humans before, there are no existing preventative treatments in place. Even for “known viruses” such as Ebola, often there is no available vaccine or a specific course of treatment.

This Adviser sets out the implications for schools and colleges should a pandemic outbreak occur and provides guidance on the various risk management actions to take.