Despite a semester-long push for students to take special precautions against the flu, USC health officials say not nearly enough students have been vaccinated — and they’re worried about student health heading into next semester.
Though cases of the flu have declined in recent weeks, officials warn the illness could resurface during and after winter break.
“No one knows what to expect after winter break, but that is the normal time for us to see the flu, so it could have another peak when students travel,” Dr. Lawrence Neinstein, executive director of the University Park Health Center, wrote in an email.
According to Neinstein, cases of Influenza-like Illness jumped from 30 in the first week of school to 131 in the third week. Since then, however, cases have declined, and Neinstein said recently an average of 20-30 cases have been reported each week.
The health center does not specifically test for H1N1, but does occasionally determine if the flu is type A, B or C, which gives a glimpse into the frequency of H1N1 cases.
“We did do some rapid screening for type A early on to see if we were seeing H1N1, as most positive type A this season are H1N1,” Neinstein wrote.
Early in the year, Neinstein said, 40 percent of people tested for the flu were positive for type A. Now, however, that number has fallen below 10 percent.
But despite the recent lull, Neinstein said students should remain vigilant in guarding against the flu, and the best defense, he says, is vaccination.
“If prevention was really wanted, the students would come in and get the vaccine. That is the main and best modality of prevention,” Neinstein wrote.
Jeff Diamond, a spokesperson for the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, said winter break is the ideal time for students to be vaccinated if they haven’t been already.
“As more and more vaccines become available and it seems we are in a short decline in the number of cases being reported, [it is] the outstanding window of opportunity for college students to take the vaccine,” Diamond said. “Especially with the traveling over the holiday break, it’s a very good idea.”
But Neinstein said the majority of students seem uninterested in the vaccine.
“Most students do not want the vaccine,” Neinstein wrote. “About 10 percent or less of students have been vaccinated, that number should be way over 50 percent. I would like to see students banging down the doors for the vaccine without a crisis occurring on campus.”
Neinstein noted that students and young adults are among the groups hit hardest by H1N1, yet are also among the least likely to get vaccinated.
Amanda Smith, a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism, was among those who took advantage of the resources offered by the health center and got the H1N1 vaccine.
“I will go for any risk prevention. If one shot could save my life, why not?” Smith said.
But some students like Jac’Quez Page, a freshman majoring in psychology, said they are hesitant about getting a flu shot because some people have experienced negative side effects.
“It just doesn’t seem like a sure thing,” Page said.
Still, both Diamond and Neinstein emphasized the importance of getting vaccinated, because of the potential for abrupt changes in the flu’s patterns. Like Neinstein, Diamond said it was impossible to determine how flu cases will trend during and after winter break, even though reports are down at the moment.
“We have no earthly idea,” Diamond said. “The pandemic is totally unpredictable. We simply don’t know.”