05/01/09 — MOC Mexico trip being handled well, local college, health officials report

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MOC Mexico trip being handled well, local college, health officials report

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on May 1, 2009 1:46 PM

The Mount Olive College student trip to Mexico this week has been managed well, say college and local health officials.

Health Director James Roosen said this morning he has closely monitored the situation since learning about the group's travel amid reports of a swine flu outbreak.

"We looked into it, talked with Jo Morgan, school nurse at Mount Olive College, and basically what she said was (former President) Vicente Fox was tending to those kids and monitoring the situation," he said. "So it sounds to me like they're getting the best care available to them down there."

Communication from the group has been mostly via e-mail, and a student blog was also set up online at /moctsbmexico.blogspot.com/

Dr. David Hill, associate professor of the Robert L. Tillman School of Business, accompanied five students on the seven-day trip. The group arrived in Mexico on Sunday and is expected to return on Saturday.

Dr. J. William Byrd, MOC president, responded to some of the concerns in light of the recent outbreak of swine flu in that country.

"Of course we are concerned for our students," Byrd said. "The college is monitoring the situation very closely, and we are in daily communication with Dr. Hill who has relayed to us that all participants are currently healthy and enjoying their trip. Dr. Hill has additionally noted that there are no confirmed cases of the swine flu in Guanajuato State, where our group is located."

Byrd also noted that the group was taking the antiviral drug Tamiflu and engaged in other preventative measures. A physician is available to the group should they need him.

The contingent is visiting Leon, Mexico, an estimated 500 miles from where the outbreak originated. One of the earlier site visits resulted in an empty campus, due to the schools being closed.

A second university also had classes canceled by the president, Hill said. Otherwise, the trip has gone smoothly.

"We are on schedule as if there is no swine flu problem," he wrote.

Businesses and restaurants also remain open, he noted.

"We have been told not as many people are eating in restaurants since the outbreak. However, the restaurants are still busy," he said.

Students have been asked to inform Hill of any symptoms or signs they might experience while on the trip. To date, he said, "everyone is perfectly healthy."

In fact, he wrote, "The students are a little disappointed that everyone is making such a big deal out of the flu when the closest case is more than four hours away from where we are visiting. The students understand why the concern, but it is taking and attention away from our visit.

"An interesting thing about this situation is the students are not thinking about the flu or getting the flu unless we receive an e-mail from campus. Some students are receiving e-mails from friends asking if they are sick yet. The question appears to irritate them since they want the focus on this internship."

While precautions continue -- frequent hand-washing, use of liquid sanitizer throughout the day -- Hill did make note of the fact that when he met one of their hosts, the former president's wife, she did not shake his hand.

"She briefed me that the President of Mexico has asked all citizens to stop shaking hands and/or kissing on the cheek when they are greeting each other," he said. "She stated that she wanted to comply with his wishes. So, we did an oriental greeting."

In a blog entry by MOC student Ivette Clemente-Andoney of Knightdale wrote, "My team and I wanted to let everyone know we are all doing very well. Many people have expressed great concern about our being in Mexico, while the world is being threatened by a health epidemic that originated here. But we want to assure everyone we are safe, strong and very healthy. We have been well taken care of during our stay here and our group has never felt in any danger of becoming ill. Please take the chance to look at our blog so you can see for yourself all the things we have had the opportunity to do since we got here on Sunday afternoon. We know we will continue to be safe and trust that God will continue to protect us during the rest of our stay here and deliver us back to our homes safely."

Roosen said he is comfortable with the way the situation has been handled.

"(Mexico) is doing an excellent job of educating the public," he said. "People are not going to work, they're practicing what's called 'self-isolation,' I would say there's not a whole lot to worry about.

"No. one, we're aware of the situation, the school nurse is aware of the situation, the kids have been well taken care of while they're in Mexico -- we have already verified that -- and when they come back, they know already what the symptoms are (and) the school nurse will monitor the situation."