October marks the beginning of flu season, and for the next few months, Drexel students will have to be especially aware of the risks of contracting the influenza virus. Combined with classes, work, and the stresses of living away from home, possibly for the first time, potential illness becomes a worry for Drexel students.
Students living on campus have to be particularly careful during this time of year — living in close quarters with one another, sometimes with several roommates, makes these students part of a very at-risk demographic. However, students can eliminate one major stressor and significantly lower their risk of contracting the flu very easily.
“Students getting the flu vaccine is the best thing. It’s the starting place for protection against the flu,” Dr. Esther Chernak of the Drexel University School of Public Health said.
“As a parent, I’m obsessive about my children getting vaccinated,” Chernak said. “My son is in college, and it’s hard to be sick when you’re alone. I don’t think most students realize just how awful the flu is. It’s not just a cold. Those who have had the flu never want it again.”
Symptoms of the flu can include anything from fever, headache and cough, to chills, nausea and vomiting. In general, it is significantly worse than contracting the common cold.
“Influenza is spread through droplets expelled when you cough, and these droplets are filled with viral particles,” Chernak said, explaining that coughing can expel these droplets up to six feet.
She advises that the best way to prevent the spread of these viral particles is through regular hand washing and covering your cough, ideally with your upper arm or inner elbow. Only ever cough into your hands if using a tissue, and dispose of this tissue immediately. Do not put it down on any surfaces like a table or desk, as this is a common mistake that spreads the viral particles onto those surfaces. Instead, throw it into a trash can, where it cannot be touched.
Chernak also stressed the importance of resting and refraining from attending classes when sick. Not only is rest a vital part of the recovery process, but more importantly, isolation stops the flu from spreading.
“When you get sick, you blame the person who came to class sick. So if you get sick, you shouldn’t come to class. It’s just better to practice what you preach,” Chernak said.
However, for some students, taking a sick day simply isn’t an option.
“Going to class is really important since all of my classes take attendance. I try to stick it out and go to classes even when I’m sick,” Allison Campbell, a sophomore entertainment and arts management major, said.
As a part of the 2-Year Residency Program, which demands that all noncommuter students must live on campus for their freshman and sophomore years, this is Campbell’s second year in on-campus housing.
“Last year I tried to wash my hands a lot, and I was careful not to touch my eyes or mouth, but there’s not much you can do when you’re constantly around people who are sick,” Campbell said. “The dorms are definitely not the healthy environment students would hope to have, and I didn’t notice any extra effort on the school’s part to try and keep the dorms sanitary [during flu season]. Our bathrooms didn’t even have soap for most of the year.”
In these sorts of environments, the best method to prevent the flu is receiving the flu vaccine. Drexel performs yearly flu vaccination clinics that provide vaccines for students, staff and faculty.
Under Drexel’s student health insurance plan, vaccinations are free, while otherwise there is a flat fee of $28. Receipts are given for reimbursement to those not covered by Drexel’s insurance if flu shots are an expense covered by their health insurance company. The 2013 clinic occurred Oct. 8, but students can still receive flu vaccines through Student Health Services.
“I didn’t know that Drexel gave flu shots until my professor told our class that we should get one. I hadn’t heard any other information about them until then,” Campbell said. “I’ve never gone to Drexel’s Student Health Center, either. I normally just go to CVS and get some cough drops and hope I get better.”
In addition to supplying students with medications after they have already contracted the flu, pharmacies like CVS administer flu shots every year.
Chernak also dispelled a commonly held myth about flu vaccines, that getting the vaccine can cause contraction of the disease. She said that because influenza strikes around the same time of year as many other seasonal illnesses, it’s those that people are contracting after vaccination, not the flu. In fact, getting vaccinated can actually help students fight those illnesses.
“That’s the beauty of the flu vaccine. While it is meant to prevent people from getting the flu, it can also help protect against other illnesses. You generally get less sick from other illnesses when you do contract them if you have had a flu shot,” Chernak said.
While flu vaccinations can cause some side effects, such as redness, soreness and swelling at the site of injection with the possibility of nausea or body aches, these subside a few days after the injection. They are are not in any way comparable to the severity of symptoms upon contracting the flu.