Federal, state health agencies recommending universal vaccination to prevent flu

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URI planning vaccination clinics, public education programs

KINGSTON, R.I. – August 16, 2010 – As recently as last year, the federal Centers for Disease Control and the state Department of Health recommended that certain demographic groups receive the flu shot.

This year, they are recommending universal vaccination to prevent the spread of flu, including H1N1. This means vaccination is recommended for all people six months old and older.

“As good public health policy, we at URI are recommending that everyone, students, faculty and staff get vaccinated,” said Chad Henderson, director of Health Services. “Vaccination and good health habits, such as frequent hand washing are the best ways to prevent flu.”

Henderson and his team are preparing for vaccination clinics and a public education program that will repeat many of the messages issued during last year’s H1N1 pandemic. Henderson said clinics are being planned for the first week in October. Additional announcements will be made when dates, times and locations are finalized.

Last year, those who wanted maximum protection needed two shots—one for seasonal flu and the other for H1N1. Only one shot, which will include H1N1 vaccine and vaccine against other strains, will be needed this flu season.

To help Rhode Island’s universities and colleges get the word out early about the importance of vaccinations, David Gifford, director of the state Department of Health issued a letter that he asked universities to send to the students’ families. He also wrote to university presidents seeking their assistance to combat the flu.

In his letter to URI President David M. Dooley, Gifford wrote, “Despite all the media attention that H1N1 flu received last year, the unfortunate truth is that complications from seasonal flu viruses hospitalize and kill college students across the country every year. Because of close living quarters, communal bathrooms and high levels of social activity among your students, the flu will be circulating on your campus again in the coming academic year. Vaccination is the most effective way to limit the spread of the flu and to keep your students in classrooms, on athletic fields, and out of student health centers.”

In his letter to families, Gifford said Rhode Island achieved the highest vaccination rates in the country last year. By the end of flu season, more than 10,000 college students were vaccinated.

“Although these numbers are admirable, we need to do more to increase our vaccination rates this coming year,” he wrote. “High vaccine coverage rates in colleges help create (large group) immunity needed to reduce the spread of flu among students, faculty and campus community members.”

Gifford wants Rhode Island to be a flu-free state in 2010-2011.

Since last year’s crisis, Henderson said the big challenge would be to convince members of the campus community that maximum participation in prevention efforts is essential.

“Our message to everyone will be that if you get the vaccine and follow good health practices you will be healthier and so will the community,” Henderson said.

Like last year, Health Services personnel are emphasizing the differences between colds and the flu.

“Flu is characterized by rapid onset of fever, body aches and pain, and severe chills,” said Ellen Reynolds, associate director of Health Services. “A cold usually starts with respiratory symptoms like a sore throat, a runny nose and/or congestion, and usually there is no fever.”

On its website, Health Services recommends six key practices to prevent the flu:

– Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others and do not share drinks, utensils, etc.

– Stay home from work and school and avoid doing errands when you are sick. Stay out until your temperature remains normal for 24 hours.

– Cover your mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing with a tissue or the inside for your elbow.

– Wash your hands often with soap and water to protect yourself from germs.

– Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose or mouth.

– Practice other good health behaviors. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids and eat nutritious food.

For further information, go to www.uri.edu/news/h1n1, www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu and www.health.uri.edu.