Students vulnerable to flu on campus
November 4, 2010
Living or working in a university environment places students at risk of many illnesses, yet only about one-third of college students receive flu vaccines.
According to the 2009 American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment findings summary, approximately 33 percent of college student respondents reported receiving an influenza vaccine within the past 12 months.
Students share facilities like classrooms and desks; live in close-quarters like residence halls and apartment buildings; and often dine in common areas which can promote the spread of communicable diseases, said Director of Student Health and Counseling Services Alice Reilly-Myklebust.
Another contagious disease called pertussis — commonly known as “whooping cough” — could also pose a threat to the campus community. One on-campus case of pertussis was confirmed mid-October. Most children receive vaccines for pertussis, but the vaccine begins to lose its effectiveness after about 10 years, which leaves adults vulnerable without a booster.
Reilly-Myklebust recommends adults stay up to date on their vaccines and to make sure that the pertussis vaccine is included in their tetanus booster, which is a common practice.
Unlike influenza, which is caused by a virus, pertussis is a bacterial disease. According to the Wisconsin Division of Public Health, pertussis is spread by contact with oral or nasal secretions from an infected person. Exposure can occur after repeated, prolonged contact such as sharing a room with an infected person, kissing or sharing eating utensils.
“It’s not a super contagious disease,” Reilly-Myklebust. “Just being in a class with somebody who has it doesn’t mean you’ve been exposed.”
To stay healthy, Reilly-Myklebust said she encourages people to get enough sleep, wash their hands frequently, eat regular healthy meals and get some form of exercise because these practices will boost immunity and help prevent illness.
“Everybody’s heard those things a million times, but they really do work,” Reilly-Myklebust said.
The H1N1 virus disproportionately affected younger people last year, said Reilly-Myklebust, partially because they were not vaccinated.
The typical influenza vaccine protects against several strains of influenza. This year the H1N1 strain is included.
“We’ve always recommended that everybody in a campus environment get vaccinated,” she said.
This year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is also following that recommendation by encouraging all people ages six-months or older be routinely vaccinated for influenza.
In the past, the CDC recommended seasonal flu vaccines for children ages six-months to four years, adults ages 50 and older, those that may have other health problems or for anyone in contact with those at higher risk for flu-related complications such as nursing home workers or families with young children.
“It’s definitely not too late to get a flu shot,” Reilly-Myklebust said.
Daycare worker and UW-River Falls senior Jennifer Schulz said she plans on getting her influenza vaccine sometime next week at her regular clinic.
“I work with kids a lot, and I’m around babies a lot, too,” she said. “I don’t want to risk carrying the flu to them.”
Reilly-Myklebust said that having the flu is a lot different from having a cold. People with the flu are more likely to miss work and class than if they had a cold because of the disease’s severe symptoms.
She also said that those who have gone through the flu are more likely to get vaccinated because they are aware of the virus’ effects and wouldn’t want to go through it again.
“I’ve had [the flu] before,” said senior Lindsay Johnson. “I would rather not be sick at all and get one little shot and be done with it.”