It may have seemed like a long time ago at this point in the semester, but in the early days of October, one might recall seeing some of Gonzaga University’s own nursing students administering shots of this year’s flu vaccine to students and faculty in the John J. Hemmingson Center.
Perhaps you went in to get one, like the over 1,200 students and 500 faculty members who have already done so, according to the Health & Counseling Services Office (HCS). Perhaps you missed the chance and thought that there was no other way to obtain a flu shot at GU.
But the HCS office has been administering shots in its office since the influenza vaccine was distributed nationwide in late September.
“Students can still walk in here at any point that we’re open and get their flu vaccine,” said Jill Yashinsky–Wortman, interim assistant dean for student well–being and healthy living. “We always recommend to get them, it takes about two weeks for the full potency, so there’s plenty of time between now and what could be peak season to still get a vaccine.”
Even now in early December, “flu season” is still in its infant stages. According to the CDC, the percentage of hospital visits pertaining to Influenza-like illness tends to peak during the beginning weeks of each new year.
Influenza is different from viral gastroenteritis, which is what people call the stomach flu. Viral gastroenteritis is an infection in the intestinal region. Influenza, on the other hand, which is what the yearly vaccine is created to help treat, is a viral infection that attacks one’s respiratory system and commonly results in a high fever, congestion, body aches and fatigue.
“Results showed that about 8% of the U.S. population gets sick from the flu — which translates to 26,176,000 people a year,” the CDC reported. “And, it’s estimated that 31.4 million people visit the doctor, and 200,000 end up in the hospital every flu season.”
The spread of influenza picks up severely in the winter months, which means that as the weather begins to creep below freezing and the sun starts to set before 4 p.m. here in Spokane, it’s important for GU students to consider going in for their shots.
“So far, it hasn’t been so bad yet, but it’s still early,” Sharon Young, the nurse manager for GU’s medical clinic said. “We know that we’re going to hit peak season later, but we have already had positive flu tests come up on campus. So we know that it’s around.”
GU being a university that is home to more than 5,000 undergraduate students along with 800 faculty and staff and an innumerable amount of community members who frequent the campus, the area can become a hotbed for the yearly influenza virus.
HCS realizes this, and is extremely adamant about ensuring that students who come into contact with one another and potentially pathogens are knowledgeable about the resources that this university offers to help combat flu season.
“Students live in close proximity of one another in residence halls, use the same restrooms as each other, they all go to class with one another, they’re all using the door handles of College Hall, they all go to the same grocery store,” Yashinsky–Wortman said. “So we know that there are certain environments where students are more likely to get the flu if it is on campus, and those will be some of the places where we will offer our services.”
HCS also works collaboratively with certain concentrations of the university to raise awareness and keep students informed about the preventative measures that can be taken to avoid contracting the flu.
They work with the nursing school every year because students in the program are required to have been administered certain vaccines in order to do field studies, and representatives from the office meet with each of GU’s Division I sports teams to inform them of the upcoming flu season and what precautionary measures should be taken by the teams to avoid perpetuating the illness amongst athletes.
Along with choosing to receive this year’s vaccination, there are other preventative steps that college students can take to lower the chances of becoming afflicted by this year’s flu.
“There are things that you can prepare in your dorm room too like a stash of Gatorade, some powdered soups, Emergen–C powdered vitamins, a bottle of ibuprofen and Tylenol and a thermometer — all of those creature comfort things that you have at home, you can duplicate here in a little Ziploc bag,” Young said. “Also using one of the hand sanitizer machines any opportunity you get and trying not to touch your face as much as possible is a good precautionary measure too.”
No matter what steps you take to help yourself through flu season, Young recommends students continue to consider getting vaccinated as a viable option as well.
“The more students that have the vaccine, then the less chance we have of it spreading,” Young said. “There’s herd immunity, so the more of us that get the vaccine within our community then hopefully the more people that we’re protecting, even if those people haven’t built an immunity to the virus yet.”
According to Elsevier’s Vaccine Journal, at least 70% of a community need to receive the annual flu shot to attain herd immunity within any particular community.
With the number of students and faculty that have already been administered a vaccine by the HCS Office alone, GU is well on it’s way to keeping the number of influenza cases lower than in previous years.
If a student wishes to go to HCS to receive a shot, they can walk in at any time during the office’s hours of operation, pay $5, and leave 15 minutes later with the peace of mind that their body is more apt to stay healthy through the final rigorous weeks of the semester.
HCS is located at 704 E. Sharp Ave. and is open Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.