University News

Health Services aims for flu-free winter

Anticipating severe winter, U. encourages students get free flu shots at vaccine clinics

By
Contributing Writer
Friday, October 31, 2014

About 43 percent of the student body has received University-provided flu shots this year, said Unab Khan, medical director of Health Services, and no cases of the flu have been confirmed so far on campus.

Over the last three weeks, Health Services provided free flu-shot clinics at the Stephen Robert ’62 Campus Center and the Alpert Medical School, where all students could receive shots at no cost.

So far, 3,626 students have been vaccinated, Khan said. “This is a very good start.”

At the conclusion of last year’s flu season, 45 percent of students had been vaccinated, Khan said, adding that Health Services staff is pleased with this year’s turn-out.

Though the clinics have concluded, students can make an appointment with Health Services to get a flu shot, Khan said. If demand for appointments exceeds availability, Health Services will arrange more clinics, she added. “We really encourage all of the students to get vaccinated.”

Margaret Klawunn, vice president for campus life and student services, said the clinics were promoted via Morning Mail, campus notices and advertisements in The Herald. “We also hold the clinics purposefully in places where it is convenient for students to access them, such as in the Campus Center,” she said.

Jaekyung Song ’17 said being vaccinated was easy. “It’s close. It’s free. It’s convenient.”

“I got my flu shot as soon as I heard about the clinic,” said Sarah Yoho ’18. “As an athlete on the cross country team, I can’t afford to get sick.”

Though flu season can start around September, specific dates vary from state to state, Khan said.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services officially announces flu season each year, Khan said, adding that flu season officially begins based in different regions based on threshold numbers of confirmed cases.

Symptoms of cough, cold and fever don’t necessarily indicate the flu. Health providers collect nasal swabs that are sent to the HHS for evaluation when the flu is suspected. Khan said the HHS also looks at more than just percentages, evaluating what kind of virus is causing the flu in a specific year and whether or not it is a particularly virulent strain.

“It’s not just a simple number. There is a lot that goes into it,” she said.

Though the HHS has not initiated a warning about a strong strain or type of flu this year, Khan said there are still concerns for this season. The National Weather Service predicts a harsh winter, Khan explained, which raises concerns about a more difficult flu season.

“A bad winter means that people will be stuck in their houses and their dorm rooms, and people come more in contact with each other,” which creates worry about spreading the disease, she said.

While many Americans are worried about the Ebola outbreak, Khan said flu is just as concerning. “People need to remember other diseases — that can harm and even kill healthy people — which are more prevalent in the United States already, and flu is certainly one of them.”

Last year in the United States, about 50 healthy teenagers died from complications of the flu, Khan said, emphasizing that the flu is not something to be “taken lightly.”

“We believe it is important for students to get flu shots because the flu can cause serious illness and can easily be prevented with the vaccine,” Klawunn said.

This is the first year that Health Services will bill students’ insurance plans for the shots in order to help recoup the cost of the vaccines, Khan said, though the vaccines are still free for students, because the vaccine is incorporated into health insurance premiums. Khan estimated that the vaccines costed around $50,000 to $60,000 last year.

The University also receives a small number of free flu shots from the HHS to be allocated to people who fit specific criteria, she added.

The University also runs “Flu Web” — an online registration service on the Health Services website — which allows students to report illnesses with flu-like symptoms and request dean’s notes for missed class time, Klawunn said, adding that the University encourages use of this service in addition to those provided at Health Services in the case of illness.