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The findings show the need for colleges and universities to develop new strategies to vaccinate students, such as giving flu shots at sporting events or during campus-wide, day-long campaigns, the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center researchers said.
Their Internet survey of more than 4,000 college students in late October and November 2009 revealed that rates of seasonal flu vaccination ranged from 14 percent to 30 percent at the eight universities. That's far below the U.S. government's 2020 Healthy People goal of 80 percent coverage for healthy people ages 18 to 64.
Students were more likely to say that they'd received the seasonal flu vaccine from a private doctor or clinic, rather than from student health services, where it was available free of charge.
The study was published online in the December issue of the Journal of American College Health.
"Influenza virus is contagious and is known to circulate through college campuses, enhanced by close living quarters, typical social activities and low vaccine coverage," lead author Dr. Kathy Poehling, an associate professor of pediatrics, said in a Wake Forest news release.
"With influenza virus already being detected this November, it is likely to increase in the next one to three months and may overlap with exam periods. Although it is hard to predict the severity of the coming flu season, we usually have more influenza activity after a mild season like last year's," she noted.
These and other findings show the need for colleges and universities to use multi-pronged approaches to encourage more students who live on and off campus to get the annual flu vaccine, the researchers said.
Although young people usually recover from flu, death from flu is possible. A yearly seasonal flu vaccine (either the flu shot or the nasal-spray flu vaccine) is the best protection against the flu, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When more people on a campus get flu vaccines, less flu will spread through the school community.
-- Robert Preidt
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