County officials and university administrators were spurred to action yesterday after the World Health Organization voted to raise the level of influenza pandemic alert to a phase four out of six.
The flu, dubbed the Swine Influenza A/HINI, has claimed the lives of at least 149 individuals in Mexico and 45 mild cases have been confirmed in the United States. California, New York, Ohio, Kansas and Texas have all been affected.
A report issued by the Director General of the W.H.O. said that although the threat has risen, the organization is not recommending that borders close or that international travel be restricted.
“The change to a higher phase of pandemic alert indicates that the likelihood of a pandemic has increased, but not that a pandemic is inevitable,” the report said.
In response to the increased alert, the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department released a media alert informing the community that they are closely monitoring the progress of the flu throughout the state. So far, cases have been confirmed in San Diego, Imperial and Sacramento counties.
As of press time, no cases were suspected or confirmed in Santa Barbara County or its immediate neighbors.
Meanwhile, university officials have initiated a campaign to keep the student population abreast of the situation. Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Michael Young and Director of Human Resources Cynthia Cronk both issued e-mails to the student body outlining symptoms of the virus and listing precautions to minimize any spread of illness.
UCSB campus physician Dr. Elizabeth Downing said in a written statement that seasonal influenza vaccines – known as the “flu shot” – do not protect against the swine HINI virus, but that the Center for Disease Control said it can be treated with Tamiflu or Relenza.
“UCSB is closely monitoring the swine flu investigations underway in California and elsewhere, and will provide updated information as it becomes available,” the statement said. “Student Health at UCSB has the ability to test and treat students for influenza and other diseases.”
Additionally, she said that the Residence Halls on campus are involved in taking precautions to minimize any spread of illness.
The Santa Barbara CPHD has established a phone line with information on the status of the swine flu outbreak. Concerned community members are encouraged to call (888) 722-6358 for updates.