T hree years ago, my hall in the Upper Quadrangle was the victim of an unrepentant attack.
One by one, my friends and I fell - to the hands of a vicious, cackling microbe, most formally known as the influenza virus.
We successively came down with 102-degree fevers and overall respiratory incapacitation. The quaint and mazelike design of the quad may be an ideal setting for secret pre-gaming, yet this claustrophobic environment is also the perfect harbor for an epidemic. And so the flu ran rampant.
Due to the risk factors associated with the vaccine, it would be ridiculous to suggest mandatory immunization across campus. If the treatment were scientifically flawless, such a requirement might be ideal, yet reality stands. We do not have the power to defeat this biological enemy, but we can hope to control its marauding schemes.
As The Daily Pennsylvanian reported on Oct. 19, there is no vaccination shortage this year, and students can make appointments to get shots or nasal sprays for only $25. Yet the University is doing an awful job advertising the vaccine's current availability. Aside from a few posted flyers inside Student Health, administrators have shamefully neglected their responsibilities to educate our student body. Penn should be doing all that it can to protect its community's health, and the first step would be to make people aware of their options - before that hellish fever begins.
"I saw the sign when I was already at Student Health, but that didn't help me because I was already sick," College junior Jessica Turner said.
Even the Office of Health Education's Web site is unhelpful, with outdated instructions from 2005 and paragraphs about an unrelated vaccine appearing under the link to flu information. If you click on the bolded terms that explain the two flu vaccines, all you'll see is an error message.
Director of Health Education Susan Villari assured me that her office has sent flyers to graduate student-health liaisons living in dormitories. Apparently, these students have not done their share of photocopying.
According to Student Health Director Evelyn Wiener, "Vaccination is the most effective way of prevention." However, the vaccine remains only about an 80- to 90-percent effective form of protection against flu contraction, Wiener said. So even if you have gotten the shot, don't plunge yourself headfirst into a steaming pile of influenza germs. And remember that you will still have no protection against the common cold, strep throat and other common winter illnesses.
"Side affects are usually mild: soreness at the injection site, aches, occasionally fever," Wiener said. "Life-threatening allergic reactions are rare."
Realizing the potential - but realistically minimal - risks of the flu vaccine, we might seek out some alternative methods of prevention. However, hand sanitizers and pre-emptive medications just won't cut it.
"Anti-viral medications such as Tamiflu can be used to prevent flu in someone who has been exposed, but it is usually used for a single exposure," Wiener said. "It is usually not recommended as a preventive method for the entire flu season."
Ultimately, there is just no substitute for the vaccine. Tight residential quarters and overly cozy relations among dorm residents provide the perfect catalyst for influenza to spread. Equally important, Penn students who work with young children should be immunized before entering neighborhood schools.
Although mandatory immunization would not be feasible, "if there were a severe outbreak, we would encourage vaccination of all populations," Wiener said.
Through some simple publicity, the Penn administration needs to encourage all students and staff to seek immunization. A few more flyers and even a PennPortal announcement about the vaccine's availability would require little effort. One month from now, instead of wheezing and shivering, vaccinated students will be healthy as can be.
Sharon Udasin is a College senior from East Brunswick, N.J. Her e-mail address is email@example.com. Shed a Little Light appears on Mondays.Comments powered by Disqus
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