If her mom had not insisted, Kinesiology senior Briana Dumond probably wouldn’t have gotten a flu vaccine this year.

“It’s a hassle to go and get it,” Dumond said. “Just because I don’t live around here, and so I don’t have a doctor around here, and so trying to get into UHS to get a flu shot just doesn’t seem worth it.”

In the week ending Jan. 11, the University Health Service saw 10 patients with an influenza-like illness — a number that’s not uncommon for this time of year.

“Normally the flu affects young children and older adults over the age of 60 because of their immune systems being a little bit more vulnerable,” said Robert Winfield, chief health officer and director of University Health Services.

As this year’s flu season picks up, Winfield and other health officials urge everyone — especially those in Dumond’s age demographic — to get vaccinated.

The recent H1N1 outbreak, the most common strain of flu this year, has affected many young, otherwise healthy adults. Though this year’s vaccine covers the H1N1 strain, the 18- to 49-year-old demographic has one of the lowest vaccination rates.

The Michigan Department of Community Health reports 9 percent of Michigan residents between the ages of 18 and 24 and 11 percent of residents in the 25 to 49 demographic were vaccinated last year. According to Winfield, UHS administers about 3,000 flu shots every year.

“We know that if you’re vaccinated you might get ill still, but the illness tends to be much less severe,” Winfield said. “Most people that are vaccinated will not get sick enough to be in the hospital, and so I would like to see the range of 70 percent vaccination or higher.”

Winfield said there are a number of factors that keep the vaccination rate low among young adults.

“A lot of people feel very healthy and vibrant in that age group, and they just don’t feel like it’s a big deal,” he said.

Low vaccination rates among young people have dogged health officials for years. However, even the Centers for Disease Control did not recommend flu vaccinations for adults without any underlying risks until 2010.

Winfield added that some people do not believe vaccinations work, or think there may be harmful side effects to the shot — a belief he attributes to “an erroneous” “60 Minutes” report that linked vaccines to rising autism rates. For Winfield, addressing those concerns one-on-one with patients is a sufficient way to give them the correct information.

This education includes ensuring patients understand that any aches or other symptoms are not signs of a mild form of the illness, but signs that the body is building an immunity to the virus, according to Eden Wells, a clinical associate professor at the School of Public Health.

In the case of a pandemic, vaccines aren’t always available when they are needed. When the H1N1 strain showed up for the first time in 2009, the vaccine wasn’t available until about a month after officials had planned for.

“That was a lesson learned,” Wells said. “We have to be able to plan carefully and know that our vaccine is available before we start trying to implement things.”

She added that the 2009 experience with H1N1 also reemphasized the importance of staying home when feeling flu-like symptoms. During the outbreak, UHS asked professors to forgive absences to help keep the virus from spreading.

Wells said agencies in charge of pandemic preparedness work to be ready for an outbreak as severe as that of 1918, when about 675,000 Americans died from virulent Spanish flu.

“We can always keep working at being better prepared today than we were the day before,” Wells said.

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