With H1N1 gone, for now, College prepares for all possibilities

Senior nursing major Kate Passero administers a vaccine. (Elizabeth Yacone / Staff Photographer)

It’s that time of year again — the weather is getting chilly, the leaves are turning and people are worrying about getting the flu.

But according to Janice Vermeychuk, director of Student Health Services, students at least don’t have H1N1, or the swine flu, to worry about this year.

“We have not confirmed a case of H1N1 in Student Health Services since January 2010,” she said. “Scientists anticipate, however, that H1N1 will be one of the flu strains circulating in the area this flu season. It has therefore been incorporated into this year’s flu vaccine.”

Vermeychuk provided the following statement from the World Health Organization: “As we enter the post-pandemic period, this does not mean that the H1N1 virus has gone away. Based on experience with past pandemics, we expect the H1N1 virus to take on the behavior of a seasonal influenza virus and continue to circulate for some years to come.”

So H1N1 is no longer the threat it was last semester. But that doesn’t mean students shouldn’t be cautious and still get a flu shot.

“The single best chance at protection against the flu is annual vaccination,” Vermeychuk said. “I cannot stress that enough.  In the close living and learning environment of a college campus, it is paramount that students get vaccinated.”

Vermeychuk also recommended ways students can protect themselves after they get the vaccination, “Always practice good health habits to maintain your body’s resistance to infection. Eat a balanced diet, drink plenty of non-alcoholic fluids, exercise and sleep. To stop the spread of germs, wash hands frequently with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, avoid or minimize contact with people who are sick (a minimum of three feet distancing is recommended by the Center for Disease Control), avoid touching your mouth, eyes and nose, cover your cough and stay away from others as much as possible when you are sick. These measures are difficult to maintain in college and that’s why flu vaccination is so important.”

As mentioned above, the H1N1 vaccine has been incorporated in this year’s flu shot so students don’t have to worry about getting more than one shot like last year.

Vermeychuk explained this process, “Flu vaccine always consists of three components — three different strains of flu that scientists expect will circulate in the Northern Hemisphere in the upcoming flu season. These components consist of 2 type A flu strains and 1 type B flu strain. One of the type A flu strains is H1N1 this year. It is not a more powerful flu shot — there are always three strains in the flu vaccine because more than one strain of influenza circulates in the community.”

If students find themselves getting sick, even after getting the flu shot, Vermeychuk recommended students, faculty and staff stay home in order to not put others at risk, and then immediately call Student Health Services or a health care provider.

She described flu-like symptoms to be “rapid onset of high fever and body aches, cough, headache, extreme tiredness, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose (and) chills.”

Student Health Services has already held two flu-vaccination clinics, on Sept 29 and Oct 5. One more clinic will be provided by an outside company and is scheduled for Oct. 28, 5-7 p.m. in room 202 in the Brower Student Center. Flu shots will be $25 (cash or credit cards). FluMist (FluMist is thimerosal-free) will cost $30. This clinic is open to students, staff, and faculty and their friends and family too. Students with the Student Health Insurance Plan will have to pay upfront. They can then submit a claim for reimbursement (max of $20) to Bollinger at www.bollingerinsurance.com/tcnj. A receipt of payment is needed to do this.

Caroline Russomanno can be reached at russoma4@tcnj.edu.