October 7, 2003

Gannett Offers U. Flu Shot

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In order to protect students from possible contraction of the flu this season, Gannet: Cornell University Health Services is in the process of launching a vaccination clinic in which it will offer the flu shot to members of the Cornell community.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that all students and staff members at colleges and universities be vaccinated against the flu because college campuses place people in environments in which their chances of contracting the flu are increased.

Sharon Dittman, associate director of community relations at Gannett, agreed that university setups tend to pose greater risks for students’ contraction of the flu.

“Students tend to be at higher risk because they share close quarters — dorm rooms, classrooms, lab rooms, etc.,” Dittman said. “The more people around you, the better your chances of getting the flu.”

The flu, which is scientifically referred to as influenza, is a viral infection that usually lasts between three and seven days. Its symptoms include fever, chills, headache and muscle aches.

Karen Bishop, community health nurse supervisor for Tompkins County Health Department, said that the flu differs greatly from the common cold in that the cold only causes minor symptoms and is not characterized by fever.

“With a cold, you can usually go on with your basic everyday life. With the flu, you really do have pain,” Bishop said.

For the diligent student, the flu can be more than just an annoyance. It can cause students to fall behind in their schoolwork among other things and hinder their educational experiences.

“If you can keep the [faculty] and students healthy, students can get the education they paid for,” Bishop said.

After having contracted the flu, many people find it difficult to do anything except stay in bed and rest. This presents a particular problem to students, who must attend classes and take tests.

“It’s really hard to take an exam when you have the flu,” Dittman said. “And some faculty members don’t make illness an excuse.”

Bishop noted that however problematic the flu can be, the fact that it is a preventable illness should provide solace for concerned University students and staff members.

“Fortunately,” Bishop said, “flu is a vaccine-preventable disease. There is not a reason in the world for people not to get the vaccine.”

The flu shot is made of inactive flu strains that cause the body to build up antibodies against influenza. Contrary to popular belief, a person cannot contract the flu from the vaccination because the flu shot uses already dead viruses.

However, the vaccine takes two weeks to become effective once administered, so there is a window of time when the person is not protected against the flu.

Bishop said that students should not be worried about the minimal risks involved with being vaccinated against the flu.

“Side effects are really minimal,” Bishop said. “Some may experience soreness in the arm or a little redness on the skin for a day or two.”

Furthermore, Nianne VanFleet, associate director of nursing at Gannet, added that “the technology of needles has greatly improved over the years. Gannett nurses provide that combination of skill and improved technology in administering the flu shot [painlessly].”

For students with a fear of needles, other options such as a nasal spray vaccine are available. However, they come with a higher price tag and an increased risk since devices like the nasal spray use live strains of influenza.

Bishop said that getting a flu shot is especially important for members of high-risk groups. This includes people over 65 years old, health care workers, caregivers of the elderly and those with a chronic illness such as diabetes or asthma.

Those that do not fit into these categories can still help minimize the chances someone in a high-risk group has of contracting the flu.

“By immunizing individuals, you prevent them from getting the flu and spreading it to others,” Bishop explained.

Gannett recommends flu shots to all Cornell students, whether or not they are considered high-risk. The main advantage to students is the reduced chance of their having to spend more time away from the classroom.

As Dittman said, “Can you picture yourself missing four or five days of class and studying time?”

Besides getting the vaccination, students can take other simple actions to protect themselves against the virus.

“Washing your hands is the most significant measure you can take against the flu,” Bishop said.

Eight hours of sleep and well-balanced meals help too.

“Students don’t get enough sleep, find time to eat right or do many of the other things that keep their immune systems up,” Dittman said. She also advised students to “cover your mouth when you cough. That’s just good community manners.”

But while these steps can help prevent spread of the infection, the ultimate protection comes from getting the vaccine.

“The flu shot is a very effective vaccine,” Dittman explained. “Even if it doesn’t prevent you from getting the flu, it will make the flu you get shorter and milder.”

In recommending the shot to students, Dittman said, “A pinch in the arm isn’t a bad tradeoff for a week in bed.”

Archived article by Nicole Spooner