UNCA health center staff urge students to get flu vaccination

By Meredith Foster – [email protected] – Staff Writer
Officials at UNC Asheville’s student health services confirmed two cases of influenza during the first week of classes.
“We’ve only been in school a short time, so we have had just a few positive cases,” said Jay Cutspec, the director of student health and counseling services.
Pharmacists at the CVS on Merrimon Avenue confirmed a higher number of cases.
“In the pharmacy, we’ve had about seven to eight confirmed cases a day, and four to five per day in our MinuteClinic,” said Lauren Keeler, a pharmacist at CVS.
Living in close quarters with one another impacts students’ exposure to the flu and other illnesses.
“Because college students are in a communal living situation, they have more exposure to sickness than people in private residences,” Cutspec said.
Increased exposure to illness requires students to pay close attention to their surroundings, according to officials at student health services.
“We know that the flu virus can live outside the body for a period of time,” said Dr. Jeffrey Graham, medical director of student health services. “That includes door knobs, keyboards and things like that.”
Awareness of surroundings can aid in flu prevention, but doctors said they recommend getting the annual flu shot as the best chance of avoiding the flu.
“I think that vaccines are very effective. There is even some evidence to building up immunity to the flu by getting the shot every year,” Cutspec said.
Many college students do not usually get vaccinated, though. The student health center averages 30-40 vaccines each year.
“I think some students don’t get vaccinated because they think that they’re young and it won’t affect them,” Cutspec said. “Others, I think, still have a little needle phobia.”
Due to the unusually high turnout this year, the student health center has already been through their small supply for the year.
“For those looking to get a shot, I recommend the CVS on Merrimon. They usually order a lot more than us, and they work well with our school insurance,” Cutspec said.
For those who don’t like the idea of getting a shot, the mist is also an option.
“The main difference between the two is that the mist is a live virus in a lower concentration, and the shot is a higher concentration of a non-live virus,” Keeler said.
The shots themselves also come with a few mild side effects that students should be aware of before receiving one, according to officials at the student health center
“You can almost expect a low grade fever and mild to low grade body aches with the shot, but they should disappear within 48 hours,” Graham said.
The mist also has some side effects that can be expected, according to Graham.
“The mist’s side effects are usually the same as the shot, but maybe a bit more intense,” Graham said.
New flu shots come out every year due to the virus evolving so quickly, according to officials with the Centers for Disease Control.
“There are a couple of different shots you can get,” Graham said. “At student health services we offer one that protects against three different strains: two B strains and one A strain.”
Each year the CDC predicts which strains will be most prevalent, and the shots are made up based on that.
“It’s a guessing game. We hope that the prevalent strains are covered by the vaccine, but occasionally, other strains will show up,” Cutspec said.
This season a few cases of an unpredicted strain have been confirmed, according to Graham.
“We’ve had a few atypical A strain cases that we’ve treated here,” Graham said. “Sometimes that happens and we just have to deal with it.”
For anyone who starts feeling under the weather, Graham said the flu has some distinctive symptoms.
“Early symptoms include rapid onset, high fever and body aches,” Graham said. “Rapid onset is a pretty good indicator. We can have students come in and say, ‘Yeah, I started feeling bad at 3:23 this afternoon.’”
If students start feeling like something isn’t quite right, they should go and get tested, Graham said.
“We’re seeing a lot of students with influenza-like symptoms, but don’t have the flu,” Graham said. “They have the rapid onset, body aches, but a lower grade fever.”
If the flu is confirmed early enough, there are options for treatment.
“If you do get the flu, you should stay isolated to prevent spreading the virus, but also if you catch it early enough you can Tamiflu,” Cutspec said. “You are much less likely to get the full blown flu if you can get Tamiflu in the first couple days.”
Although flu season comes every year, there are things students can do to be prepared for it.
“The best advice I can give anyone is to wash your hands, wash your hands and wash your hands,” Cutspec said.