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The Scarlet & Black

Marshalltown manages flu threat

On Sunday, Iowa governor Chet Culver announced that the Marshalltown school district would close its schools until May 10, due to suspected Swine Flu cases in school-aged children. Since Sunday, May 3 there has been five confirmed cases of Swine Flu in Iowa, four of those in Marshall County.

Marshalltown Medical and Surgical Center (MMSC) Chief Operating Officer La Rae Schelling later announced on Wednesday that the Marshalltown public schools will reopen May 7, given that the H1N1 virus was not as serious as officials initially believed.

“MMSC is continuing with its efforts to evaluate and treat patients with symptoms of the H1N1 virus, in order to reduce the spread of this new virus,” Schelling said in a press release on Wednesday. “Based on the CDC guidance released early on May 5 and the additional guidance from the Iowa Department of Public Health, the Marshalltown schools have reopened.”
The H1N1 virus behaves the same as the seasonal influenza strands, influenza type A and B, except that it is resistant to most types of vaccines. The Center for Disease Control suggests using oseltamivir or zanamivir, common vaccines for the seasonal strands of influenza, for treatment and prevention of infection from the H1N1 virus.
To prevent the virus from spreading, the MMSC has set up a flu screening table at the entrance to the hospital. Upon entering the hospital, individuals must fill out a survey explaining their symptoms. If it is discovered that an individual has a temperature of 100 or more degrees, they are then directed to go to the Emergency Room flu center.
“It’s been pretty steady,” said Colby Cowan, a nursing assisting stationed at the flu screening in the hospital. “I haven’t had to direct anyone to the flu center.”
Virus mutation is especially problematic in the influenza virus, since the H5N1 virus, or the bird flu virus of 2005-2006, spread as a result of a genetic mutation from earlier, less severe strains. Mutation of a strand can cause a virus to remain dormant for a few months and then return with more severe and possibly deadly symptoms.
“[The screening process] is more precautionary, we’re more worried about it mutating,” said Jill Villalobos, director of Medical Clinical Operations at MMSC. “Once the virus mutates, it gains strength and gets worse.”
According to Father Jim Miller at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Marshalltown, virus mutation is one of the biggest concerns of the community members in Marshalltown.
“Most people are worried about [the virus] in the fall since it takes four to six months for the virus to mutate,” Miller said. “It could get worse.”
Despite concerns of mutation, Miller said that the Swine Flu has had little impact on the church. “We had a first communion and one of the [attendees] brothers had Swine Flu,” Miller said. “I went to a store one evening, and one woman had a mask on, but there wasn’t much else.”
Though health officials are trying to keep the virus contained, the repercussions have spilled into the Grinnell community. Walk a Mile in her Shoes, a DVA/SAC organized event, was canceled on Sunday due to the outbreak of Swine Flu.
Walk a Mile in her Shoes organizers, Susan Klumpner ’09 and Helen Bailey ’09, received the call from their supervisor on Sunday morning, hours before the scheduled start time, that the event was canceled.
“Swine Flu ruined my life,” Klumpner said. “This was our project, and all of our hard work was gone in one morning.”
The virus has not come to campus, according to Deb Shill, a staff nurse at the health center, and they don’t expect it to arrive.
“We’re keeping an eye on the students, but there’s really no need for concern,” Shill said.

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