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Swine Flu at University of the Southern Caribbean

The Trinidad Express reports:

Friday, June 19th 2009

AFRAID to contract influenza A/H1N1, students at the University of the Southern Caribbean (USC) in Maracas, St Joseph, are troubled over the fact that they are being asked to remove their face masks and their latex gloves even though the school has confirmed that a foreign student tested positive for the virus known as swine flu.

The student, an unidentified male, who was in the 18-member batch announced by the Ministry of Health on Wednesday, lives in the dormitory on campus and is being kept in quarantine in his room, according to university president, Dr Trevor Gardner.

However, several other students, who called the Express newsroom on the hour yesterday, said it was not one, but two of their fellow schoolmates who were sick with the virus while two more were currently being tested.

During a visit to the compound yesterday the students, who were not willing to go on record, insisted that the school’s administration wanted to cover up the whole situation by denying it because they refused to cancel classes, sanitise the dorms or provide face masks.

Nonetheless, Gardner maintained that only one student was tested positive and the student body had no need to worry as the swine flu virus was mild and not airborne.

Speaking to the Express via telephone, he said: “With respect to the two cases, the ministry told us that only one person tested positive. No other case tested positive and as a result we are being guided by the ministry’s protocols.”

Those protocols, he added, did not include shutting down classes in the middle of mid-terms or providing the student body with any protective gear.

As for the type of face mask that can be used to protect an individual from the flu virus, upon investigation, the Express understands that a surgical or P2 mask can be effective once used correctly.

According to a medical expert, the principle behind wearing a face mask is to prevent the influenza virus from being transmitted. And since it is transmitted in droplets of water, rather than through the air, placing a protective barrier over your face can block its entry into your mouth or nose.

To be effective, however, the mask should be changed every eight hours, or if it becomes moist. When taking off the mask, fold it and put it in a paper bag, but make sure your mask fits correctly over your nose and your mouth, and should be secured firmly at the back of your head.

On the other hand, if you feel that it is useless to purchase these masks; medical officials suggest that you wash your hand carefully with soap and water, after removing your mask, before and after contact with other people, before and after touching your mouth, nose or eyes and before you eat.

Meanwhile, swine flu cases are spreading at pandemic rates and people displaying flu-like symptoms are being turned away from the hospitals because of stricter screening methods.

Minister of Health Jerry Narace will be holding a press conference today at 9.30 a.m. to discuss the latest influenza A/H1N1 developments.

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