Flu scares encourage student vaccinations

Despite influenza outbreaks across the United States, the flu season is not expected to have a significant impact.

Despite influenza outbreaks across the United States, the flu season is not expected to have a significant impact.

Gavin Huang / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

Although the Center for Disease Control designated New Hampshire as a state with "widespread" influenza, the current flu season is not expected to have a major effect on Dartmouth students, according to College Health Services Director Jack Turco.

Since the beginning of the flu season in December, 14 adults in New Hampshire have died of influenza as of Jan. 11, the New Hampshire Union Leader reported. In that same period, there have been over 40 reported outbreaks of influenza, compared with 10 to 30 outbreaks the state typically sees during an average flu season.

It is still too early to determine the severity of this year's flu season, according to Jodie Dionne-Odom, an infectious disease specialist at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

"It's really impossible to predict because the seasons vary so widely from long to short, only several weeks," she said. "The severity of the illness and how sick people are going to get is something we will not know, unfortunately, until the end of the season."

Although last year's flu season was relatively mild, this year's resembles that of 2009, when the swine flu pandemic occurred, according to Dionne-Odom,

Dionne-Odom would not disclose the number of people admitted to DHMC with the flu this season, but said that there have been several so far.

The flu virus will likely not have a significant effect on Dartmouth, given its demographic constituency, according to Turco.

"Influenza is most severe and most dangerous to the elderly and the very young kids," Turco said. "People are going to be sick but not to the same degree as the very old and the very young. It's going to be more of just a disruption."

A large percentage of Dartmouth students choose to get the flu vaccine, which also reduces the risk of a major influenza outbreak. Dick's House gave 325 students vaccinations at a free clinic on Saturday, Turco said.

Dartmouth Emergency Medical Services assisted in operating the vaccine clinic, according to Dartmouth EMS executive director Nicholas Valentini '13.

Five student members of the organization registered and provided initial screen for patients.

New Hampshire's current flu vaccination protects against Influenza A, Influenza B and the swine flu, the Bangor Daily News reported. This flu season, roughly 90 percent of influenza cases have been from Influenza A.

The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services recommends that anyone over 6 months old receives the flu vaccine. It can take up to two weeks for the body to fully respond to the vaccine and fight off influenza.

In addition to Dick's House, the CVS on Main Street also offers flu shots. It has currently run out of the vaccine but expects a shipment on Tuesday, according to a sign in the pharmacy.

CVS pharmacists declined to comment for this article, citing CVS' corporate policy.

Dionne-Odom said that those who have not been vaccinated may receive the vaccine at other pharmacies in the Upper Valley.

"I would tell people that if one pharmacy is out, give calls to a couple of pharmacies around, and they will find it," she said.

Several students said that they chose to get the vaccine after their parents encouraged them to.

"My mom made sure I got the flu shot before I left Los Angeles, because I always get sick when I go back to school after a long break," said Carene Mekertichyan '16. "I can't afford to miss any classes this term."

Other students said the flu shot is a way of avoiding other health complications.

"When I get the flu, it always develops into pneumonia," Emily Leach '16 said. "I try to avoid it."

While influenza is usually not life-threatening to college students, they run a higher risk of contracting the flu because they are always in close contact with other students, Dionne-Odom said.

"It's pretty easy to pass respiratory secretions and make people sick when you are in class together all the time," said Dionne-Odom. "It's a very easy place for influenza to spread."

Both Turco and Dionne-Odom said that students with confirmed cases of the flu can help prevent a major outbreak by staying home from class and avoiding common spaces.

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