To raise awareness and help students take their health into their own hands, Keene State College offered flu shot clinics last week where students, faculty and staff were able to receive a flu vaccination without having to leave campus.

Registered Nurse (RN) Deb Starratt, who can be found at the Center for Health and Wellness on the third floor of the Elliot Center, helped run the flu shot clinic last week and spoke up about the importance of staying protected against the flu.

“We want as many people as possible, students, staff and faculty, to get the flu shot because if there’s a flu outbreak on-campus, it could be devastating,” Starratt said.

During the H1N1 outbreak back in 2009, Starratt said that the campus ended up hosting a mass flu clinic and hired extra staff to deal with phone calls, triage and a large volume of ill students.

“We recently received a New Hampshire state alert that [this year’s flu strain] has been found in New Hampshire,” Starratt said.

While she believes the strain has not yet found Cheshire County, Starratt said she thinks it’s only a matter of time before symptoms begin showing up in this community.

Starratt said if the flu reaches the KSC campus, it could spread within a couple days to a week.

Samantha Moore/ Art Director

Samantha Moore/ Art Director

“Students are especially at risk living in dorms and being in such close quarters,” Starratt explained. “They’re more likely to be at risk for illness spreading really fast.”

Starratt stressed the fact that students can come by the Elliot Center any time, either by appointment or during drop-in hours, to receive a flu vaccination.

The flu shot clinic that took place last week only yielded about 60 students and staff and faculty members on-campus.

Starratt said, “[Students, staff and faculty might] have a fear of needles, or they’ve heard reports in the past that there are alternative medicines that will keep them safe, but really no one’s safe from getting the flu… There’s no way to avoid [it] unless you get vaccinated.”

With that being said, after the initial flu shot, it may take a person’s body three to seven days to develop the proper antibodies to boost a person’s immune system. “So,” Starratt said, “the sooner the better.”

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, flu season can start as early as October and last as late as May, infecting millions of Americans every year.

KSC students in majors like nursing and athletic training are required to get the flu shot every year.

Sophomore nursing student Olivia Thom said she believes prevention is everyone’s first defense against getting sick, and the flu shot definitely helps with that.

“Every year, I do get the flu shot in order to reduce the risk of getting the flu. I already have a very weak immune system,” Thom said. “I try my best to stay up-to-date with my vaccinations to prevent getting sick.”

As a nursing major, Thom stressed the importance of getting her flu shot every year.

Thom explained, “It’s necessary for nursing students to stay up-to-date with their flu shots because we are constantly exposed to everything once we get into clinicals and start working in the field.”

Thom said that her mother, who is a pediatric nurse at Boston Children’s Hospital, noted that new nurses on her floor often find themselves ill in the first two weeks of working because of the combination of different illnesses surrounding them.

KSC junior and athletic training major David Villalobos is also required to get the yearly flu shot.

Villalobos, who doesn’t typically get the flu shot, said that he understands the requirement for his major.

“Being athletic training students, we have to touch a lot of athletes to check their injuries, so it’s important for us that we stay germ-free and don’t spread any bacteria to our patients,” Villalobos explained. “For the sake of our patient [athletes] and ourselves, it’s critical that we constantly wash our hands with soap and water and try to avoid sick people.”

In addition to certain majors staying protected, Villalobos said that he believes all college students should protect themselves from the flu in any way that they can.

“Lots of germs can be spread in college, such as sharing drinks and sexual intercourse, if not protected appropriately, and also, you never know what that person was doing before you gave them a high five or hug when you see them around campus,” Villalobos said. “The flu can spread very easily around campus and you never know when it can happen. Getting the vaccine is the best way to reduce the chances you will get the flu due to seasonal changes and spreading it to others.”

Thom spoke from personal experience when she said getting the flu is no fun.

“It was a pretty terrible experience,” Thom explained. “I had a very high fever, no appetite and constantly felt fatigued. Feeling this way for over a week made me feel extremely anxious because I just wanted to get back in my schedule of working out and hanging out with my friends.”

Villalobos stressed the importance of college students taking care of themselves.

“Just take care of yourselves. Always wash your hands, use tissues when needed [and] know why getting a flu shot is important,” Villalobos explained. “You’re [not only] benefitting your peers, but you’re more importantly benefitting yourself. Nothing is worse than getting sick at college.”

Jill Giambruno can be contacted at jgiambruno@kscequinox.com