Uni holds strong against flu threat

Harriet Russell –Deputy News Editor 15 October 2009

Despite a surge in reported swine flu cases over the summer and at the start of the Michaelmas term, there is evidence that Cambridge University’s policy for dealing with the epidemic has so far been effective.

During the long vacation, there were reported outbreaks of the virus at those colleges who held Summer School Schemes. Pembroke College had the most severe case, with a student having to receive serious medical attention whilst experiencing respiratory problems after taking the vaccine. Pembroke has had two reported cases of the virus since the beginning of Michaelmas Term, but did not wish to comment.

Churchill College was also affected over the summer. Grayden Webb, the JCR President at Churchill told The Cambridge Student (TCS): “At Churchill, we had the largest outbreak in June, which was dealt with extremely successfully.

“With the help of the JCR, the College has put together a good set of guidelines, which are functional but not overbearing. From discussions with other Presidents, it seems many other colleges overreacted, placing a burden on students with several precautionary measures.”

Many students have been asked to name ‘Flu Friends’ since arriving at Cambridge. This involves nominating two people close to you who will be responsible for bringing food and medicine to a student’s room should they contract the virus.

Patrick Farmborough, JCR President at Corpus Christi College told TCS: “We’re not going to go into Daily Mail mode and tell everyone they’re going to die; we’re focusing on trying to minimise any disruption to normal life.”

So far there have been two confirmed cases of swine flu at Jesus College since students arrived for the beginning of Michaelmas Term.

One student chose to go home by choice but was due to return by Tuesday 13th October, and would remain in isolation until Friday 16th October. The other chose to stay in Cambridge but has also remained in isolation with the help of ‘flu friends’. Both have been reported as being well looked after.

Felicity Davies, a Jesus Philosophy student, spoke to TCS: “Lowell Belfield is Finlay O’Duffin’s flu partner and he’ll be out of “isolation” on Wednesday. Sarah Vose also has swine flu and has been at home in London. She returns tomorrow and won’t be out of isolation until Friday. Finlay has spent most of the week in his dressing gown, and we’ve barely seen him!”

Finlay O’Duffin described missing out on freshers’ activities as “frustrating, particularly the matriculation dinner” It has been “generally a mild condition, although for the first few days there was a very nasty cough, headache, and lethargy,” he said.

Mr O’Duffin was “diagnosed after answering questions on the online pandemic flu service, at the recommendation of the college nurse,” and was given Tamiflu “here in Cambridge. Jesus College have handled it very well.”

David Lowry, the JCR President for Jesus College told TCS: “Jesus has spent a large amount of time planning a system to avoid spreading infection or causing inconvenience. Students have flu-friends, whilst those who prefer can have a JCSU Welfare Officer as their flu friend.

“Medicine is available and support exists to make sure students can eat, drink and continue work if they wish to. We are reviewing the situation and have contingency plans ready if the situation develops. Any concerned students should contact the student union.”

When asked about their feelings on the latest developments, a University spokesperson told TCS: “We are very conscious that swine flu presents us with various very significant challenges – but we have, since May, been working hard across the collegiate university (and, importantly, with the sabbatical officers from CUSU and the Graduate Union) to put in place appropriate procedures to ensure, as far as possible, business continuity and to help us safeguard the welfare of staff and students.

“There is no way in which we can stop this highly contagious virus from spreading. However, we will do what we can to limit that spread and to ensure that appropriate care is provided to those who contract the virus.”

Amiya Bhatia, CUSU Wellfare Officer, added: “While it is important to be vigilant and to look after yourself there is absolutely no need to panic.

“Guidance is available for Colleges, Faculties and individual students and there are many systems of support in Colleges, across the University and externally and the University has access to the latest information about the virus. Information for Colleges and students is available from the University website too.”

Harriet Russell –Deputy News Editor