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H1N1 vaccinations remain crucial, health officials say

February 11, 2010

Though fears of the H1N1 flu are beginning to subside, Student Health Services offi cials at UWRiver Falls said individuals on campus should continue to take preventative measures against the virus.

“We’re still encouraging people to get vaccinated,” said Lori Otto, student health nurse at Student Health Services.

Alice Reilly-Myklebust, director of counseling at Student Health Services said just because the flu isn’t in the news now doesn’t mean it’s gone for good.

“We are still expecting a third wave of the H1N1 flu,” she said.

Student Health Services held an immunization clinic on Feb. 3 in the University Center in conjunction with the Western Wisconsin Medical Association. Vaccinations for both H1N1 and seasonal flu were available. Seasonal flu shots cost between $18 and $35 depending on insurance and status as a student, while H1N1 shots were given free of charge.

Despite the fact that the H1N1 vaccinations are free, Otto said she was disappointed with the number of people looking to get vaccinated during the two-hour clinic.

“We might [have given] 30 or 40 shots-that’s it,” she said.

Comparatively, nearly 500 individuals were vaccinated at the clinic held in early December. Still, these numbers fell short of expectations at Student Health Services.

“We were hoping for 30 to 50 percent of students to come in,” she said. “But by the time we got the vaccine, the urgency had died down.”

Before the H1N1 vaccine was available in early December, students were fi ling in to Health Services with flu-like symptoms.

“I would see on average of 10 or 15 upper respiratory illnesses every day, about a third of those were infl uenza, for about three weeks this fall,” Otto said.

The biggest challenge in getting people vaccinated is announcing that the shots are available on campus, Reilly-Myklebust said.

“It’s really tough to get the word out,” she said. “We post announcements on Falcon Daily and there are posters in each of the residence halls. We rely a lot on word of mouth.”

Word of mouth is how animal and dairy science professor Dennis Cooper said he heard about the Feb. 3 clinic.

“For a long time [H1N1 vaccines] were in short supply so I didn’t get vaccinated,” he said. “I had a student tell me about this earlier [in the day], so I came in.”

In the event of another and possibly more severe outbreak of H1N1 cases on campus, Blake Fry, who works on emergency preparedness plans in the chancellor’s offi ce, said preparations have been made.

“We do have a pandemic flu plan,” he said. “We have some recommendations from the provost on being flexible with attendance for students and staff.”

For those who may begin to exhibit signs of the flu, Otto has some very simple advice.

“If you think you have the flu, stay home and get better,” she said.

Symptoms of both H1N1 and the seasonal flu include a sore throat, consistent cough, body aches, chills and fatigue. While the seasonal flu is almost always accompanied by a very high fever, it may be absent from a case of H1N1 flu, according to the Center for Disease Control’s Web site.

In the event of a serious outbreak, Fry said he recommends that people head off campus and go home. If that’s not possible, arrangements can be made for meals to be brought to students in the residence halls to prevent unnecessary contact between ill students and the rest of the campus population.

If the need arises, holding another immunization clinic is certainly a possibility, Reilly-Myklebust said. “We’ll wait and see how it pans out,” she said. “If we see a third wave and the Public Health Department has vaccines left we will hold another clinic. For all of it, I think people should just stay tuned.”