College Officials Look to 1918 in Efforts to Plan for Possible Avian-Flu Pandemic on Their Campuses

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In 1918, when a horrific strain of influenza swept the globe, American society -- and colleges -- looked much different than they do today.

But several colleges have figured that they could learn from the past in preparing for what could be another flu pandemic -- if a deadly form of avian flu that has surfaced in humans in Southeast Asia, China and the Middle East becomes easily transmissible among people. So they have scoured their archives for records of the 1918 pandemic. What they have found only emphasizes the need for advance planning, college officials say.

The president of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill died of the flu in October 1918. The university appointed the dean of the college of liberal arts to serve as acting president, but he died of the flu in January 1919.

Peter A. Reinhardt, who is director of environment, health, and safety at Chapel Hill, discovered that in 1918 the university asked students not to attend gatherings. "We saw some social-distancing measures," he says, a prime strategy even today to slow the spread of flu.

The student newspaper in 1918 mentioned a student meeting that was canceled because of the request, but the same issue also reported on a campus dance with "young ladies present from all parts of the state."

"If we run into the situation again in another pandemic," Mr. Reinhardt says, "I think the university would have a lot more control over its operations."

Some universities canceled classes during the peak wave of influenza. The University of Maryland at Baltimore did so in October 1918.

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