College students this fall could be facing an epidemic much worse than excessive homework since October in the United States signals the beginning of flu season. According to the Center for Disease Control, “Flu season” in the United States can begin as early as October and last as late as May and can affect anywhere from 5 to 20 percent of Americans every year, according to the CDC Foundation. Adults aged 18-64 account for 60 percent of flu-related hospitalizations, according to the foundation.
There are several preventative measures that can be taken to reduce chances of getting the flu, primarily the flu shot. For the 2014-15 season, 47.1 percent of the American population over six months old received a flu shot, according to the CDC.
Even though less than half of the country gets a flu shot, Assistant Director for Physical Health at the Student Health and Counseling Center Maggie Fitzgerald, says there are some definite benefits of a flu vaccination.
“The first big benefit is you don’t get sick, and it’s just a ripple down effect from that,” Fitzgerald said. “If you don’t get sick, you are not going to spread [it] to other people. If you don’t get sick, you don’t have to miss work. All those kind of trickle down effects are the whole big picture of why it’s good to get vaccinated.”
The CDC website shows that vaccine effectiveness varies from year to year, but states that the vaccine reduces the risk of flu illness by 50 to 60 percent. One of the reasons vaccine effectiveness varies so much has to do with the fact that the flu vaccine is just a prediction of what the current year’s flu strain will be.
“During years when the flu vaccine is not well matched to circulating viruses, it’s possible that no benefit from flu vaccination may be observed,” the CDC website states. “During years when there is a good match between the flu vaccine and circulating viruses, it’s possible to measure substantial benefits from vaccination in terms of preventing flu illness.”
The flu season tends to visit Alaska later than the lower 48 according to Fitzgerald. The success she sees varies from year to year, person to person, based on several factors, but overall she has confidence in the vaccination.
“Some years are better than others, we have like a whole department down at the CDC, the Center for Disease Control, in Atlanta that this is their job — to predict what’s going to be the prevalent strains of the virus in any given year,” Fitzgerald said. “For the most part, I don’t know the exact statistics on that, I would say they are pretty good at estimating. They have a lot of historical data to go on.”
The Student Health and Counseling Center provides flu shots to UAA students. The vaccination costs $20, and the center does welcome walk-ins. Faculty and students have already started to utilize this service according to Fitzgerald, but she believes those numbers will rise towards the height of flu season in Alaska.
“We have some every day that come in, staff, faculty come in, students come in on a walk-in basis,” Fitzgerald said. “This time of year it’s going to get even busier as the flu season approaches the peak in the winter months. Although people are starting to show up for sure, every day we get some walk-ins.”
Melissa Tuttle, a UAA student majoring in environment and society, received her flu shot last week.
“Well, I actually had to get a tetanus shot, because I wanted to work with birds… and my doctor had told me a week before that, that because I attended UAA and all of the germs around there, I should get a flu shot,” Tuttle said. “So while I was on campus getting my tetanus shot I said, ‘Hey, can you guys give me my flu shot too?’ and they did. So I just got a shot in each arm at the same time and it was done, that easy.”
Tuttle doesn’t typically get the flu shot every season. In fact, this was only her second time receiving the vaccination.
“I basically did it because my doctor told me it was a good idea on a campus atmosphere to get a flu shot,” Tuttle said. “I feel much better having gotten the flu shot.”
Some UAA students don’t understand the point of paying $20 for a vaccination. Elementary education major Barbara Sikvayugak thinks it is a lot of money for a shot that isn’t required by the university.
“I really don’t get the point of [the] shot. I get what they need for the records, I do it for the records, but I really don’t know the meaning of any of the shots I take,” Sikvayugak said. “I mean, $20 is pretty pricey for a shot. It shouldn’t cost $20 for a shot that should be free.”
Fitzgerald cautions that the flu is not just a bad cold. Flu symptoms can range from a runny nose, migraines, to body aches and vomiting.
“The flu is specific types of viruses, and I think people do get confused between colds and flu’s,” Fitzgerald said. “Colds typically affect the upper respiratory tract, basically from your neck up, and they can certainly make you feel miserable. But they are not as serious and prone to complications as the bonafide flu, which is more of a systemic and you feel bad all over when you get the flu.”
Since very few programs at UAA require the flu shot, outside of the health science programs, Fitzgerald recommends that people who do contract the virus stay home, stay hydrated, rest and take some sort of pain medication for the body aches.