Chancellor dons virology hat when flu strikes

July 21st, 2009  |  by  |  Published in Campus News

H1N1 testing kit

H1N1 testing kit

When the first case of swine flu was confirmed at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa in early May, the campus turned to a leader who is also an expert virologist.

At age eight, Mānoa Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw read a classic science book by Paul de Kruif. “I decided to be a microbiologist after reading Microbe Hunters and becoming intrigued by the contributions of Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of penicillin,” recalls Hinshaw, who became a renowned and respected expert in virology.

A few days before the end of the spring 2009 semester, just a week prior to commencement, Hinshaw activated UH Mānoa’s Influenza Pandemic Emergency Operation Plan.

“Our team was ready because of our planning, so we immediately went into action—from isolation of the student and roommates at their residence hall to communicating with the campus and community,” she says. “The Department of Health was also a great partner. We were very grateful for their support.”

When she can spare time from serving as chief academic and administrative officer of the UH System’s largest and oldest campus, Hinshaw shares her scientific knowledge with many audiences, including an influenza briefing for state legislators, and monitors the worldwide impact of this virus.

“Thankfully, the majority of infections here in Hawaiʻi and across the U.S. have involved relatively mild disease and have not impacted as heavily on older people as typically seen with influenza,” she notes. “However, you cannot depend on influenza viruses remaining the same. My colleague at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Dr. Yoshi Kawaoka, recently published a study suggesting that the current swine H1N1 virus more readily spreads to the lungs than the seasonal flu, and thereby poses a greater risk for increased disease. So we will have to watch this virus carefully, and continue good practices to prevent infection.”

Those practices include washing hands often with soap and water, covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and staying home if you’re sick.

As preparations gear up for the fall semester in August, Hinshaw urges everyone to monitor reliable sources of information on influenza. The UH System emergency webpage provides updates and links to state, national and international information resources.

“I do believe this virus will be with us for a while,” says Hinshaw, “so we all need to stay well informed and vigilant about the impact it could well have.”

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