College students encouraged to get flu shot

Finals are difficult enough, but imagine studying for and taking those December exams while your body is overwhelmed with the flu.

With flu season just around the corner, Health Services has offered three opportunities for College students, faculty and staff to obtain the $20 vaccination.

This was also the first year the needle-less FluMist nasal vaccination was made available by Health Services.

Though the opportunity to receive an on-campus immunization has passed, health care experts strongly encourage all people to get vaccinated. Vaccinations are still available through clinics, some pharmacies and primary health care providers.

“College life, particularly communal living, promotes the spread of any communicable disease, including influenza,” Janice Vermeychuk, a nurse practitioner and associate director of Health Services, said.

Vermeychuk added that stress, lack of sleep and a poor diet can also increase a student’s risk of getting the flu, which is typically spread through coughs and sneezes, though the virus can be spread by hand-to-eye, -nose and -mouth contact.

According to webmd.com, influenza symptoms typically include high fever, muscle and joint ache, weakness, headache, dry cough and sore throat, among others.

Curtis Allen, a spokesperson for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), said the severity of this year’s flu season is unpredictable at best. He said the CDC is “optimistic that the vaccine is a good match to the other strains that are circulating in the world.”

According to Allen, a different vaccine is produced to combat the flu annually, and each year the vaccine includes three different strains of the virus. Last year’s vaccine didn’t match the predominant strain, causing some people to get sick even after receiving the vaccination.

Allen said though there was a “less than optimal match,” the vaccine still offered protection against the “close cousin” of one of the viruses in the vaccine. He said the vaccine is still the best defense against becoming sick.

According to the CDC, contact with someone who has a chronic disease enhances one’s likelihood of getting sick. In a college population of more than 5,000 students, Allen said, “Odds are, you are in close contact with someone who has a chronic disease.”

Though statistically College students aren’t likely to die from the flu, the virus does introduce a distinct set of complications, according to Vermeychuk.

“The most common mistake students make (other than not getting vaccinated) is that they attempt to continue with their activities as usual when they should be laying low,” she said. “They take a shower to get ready for class and pass out. Now they not only have the flu, they also have a head injury.”

Vermeychuk advised students to wash hands frequently, practice good hygiene, get nine hours of sleep per night, cull stress, eat well and drink plenty of fluids.

If struck by the flu, Vermeychuk said students should adhere to the previously mentioned practices while avoiding alcohol and smoking. She added the best thing for sick students to do is stay home. Students can also obtain an anti-viral medication through Health Services, provided that it’s initiated within two days of symptoms.

Joseph Hannan can be reached at hannan2@tcnj.edu.