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Health officials have started preparing for the upcoming flu season - but they're not making any predictions about its severity.

Predictions for upcoming seasons are difficult to make, as many factors change from one year to the next.

Besides ordering vaccinations, making sure students have all the resources for immunization and being vigilant, little else can be done in anticipation of the season.

At Student Health Services, this has meant ordering the standard 3,000 doses of flu vaccine, which staff began administering this past week.

Last season, "we actually did have a significant number of cases of flu," which was in keeping with local and national numbers, director of Student Health Services Evelyn Wiener said.

Last season's spike resulted from limited efficacy of that year's vaccine, which did not protect against one particular strand of influenza circulating the population.

As a result, some individuals who had been immunized got sick later on.

Flu vaccines, created six to eight months in advance of the season, are based on what strains researchers predict will be the predominant form the upcoming year.

"Most years they've been able to get a pretty good match of vaccine to the strand that's actually developing," Wiener said.

Flu vaccines are available by appointment at SHS for $25, a fee covered by the Penn Student Insurance Plan.

About 500 shots have been given in the past week, said Nurse Manager Anne Cunningham.

Appointments are available at Student Health six days a week during the day and evenings. An appointment takes roughly five minutes and can be scheduled online.

While all health centers have protocols in the event of sudden flu outbreaks, some health centers are changing tactics after seeing more flu cases last year.

Some universities are providing flu shots for free, while others offer additional incentives.

Students at the University of South Carolina's health center who get vaccinated receive a coupon for a 10-percent discount at the university bookstore.

Like SHS, the USC health center does not plan to expand its typical order for flu vaccines, this year at 2,000 doses, said Lauren Vincent, public relations and quality improvement coordinator.

But the health center will order more if demand is unusually high, she added.

Despite health benefits, only 26 percent of students nationally got immunized in 2006, according to a National College Health Assessment survey.

The number of student immunizations is normally steady from year to year, even when there were more cases the previous year.

More students tend to get vaccinated when there was a shortage the previous year, explained Wiener.

So far, there have been no cases of flu in Pennsylvania, and only seven states have reported outbreaks, according to the Center for Disease Control.

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