Jan 172010
Authors: Kathleen Sebelius

As you head toward finals and the holidays, there’s an important step you should take to stay healthy: Get the H1N1 flu vaccine.

This year’s flu season is the worst in many years, and young adults have been especially hard hit by the H1N1 flu. Who is in the age group most likely to get H1N1? People younger than 25.

Who gets so sick they need to be hospitalized? Half of them are younger than 25. And who is least likely to get a flu shot? People younger 25.

I am writing today to urge you to take H1N1 flu seriously, not just as the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, who has read lots of scientific studies saying this is a young person’s pandemic, but also as a mother of two sons who, not long ago, was sitting exactly where you are today.

I know it’s easy to believe that flu is something that only the very old or the very young need to worry about, that catching the flu is no big deal. No flu should ever be dismissed as “just the flu.” The regular, seasonal flu is responsible for 36,000 deaths every year -mainly in people older than 65.

But H1N1 mainly hits the young. And even though most cases are mild, some can be quite severe. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 540 children and teenagers have died from H1N1 flu since April, and it’s only the beginning of the official flu season. Some of them were perfectly healthy when they caught the flu.

So what can you do to protect yourself and people around you from flu?

Get vaccinated. It’s the most effective way to prevent the flu. The H1N1 flu vaccine is made the same way as the seasonal flu vaccine, which has a decades-long safety track record. And, it’s undergone more testing than other flu vaccines.

If you’re someone with a health condition including diabetes or asthma, the CDC says you should get vaccinated as soon as your community has vaccinations available. Other groups at high risk for serious complications include young children and pregnant women. Also, people who care for babies younger than six months, health care workers and emergency medical personnel should go to the head of the vaccination line.

In addition, many people do not realize that simply being younger than 25 also puts you in a priority group to receive the vaccine.

Stay home when you’re sick. If you do get the flu, there are things you should do to protect yourself and those around you. College campuses – dormitories, classes, wherever a lot of people are indoors together – are places the flu can spread. If you get sick, don’t go out, and don’t invite visitors in.

If you live on campus, but your home is not far away, consider going home until you’re well to avoid spreading the flu. If you live too far to go home, check to see if your college has alternate housing for ill students.

Seek medical attention immediately if you have diabetes, asthma or some other medical condition and you notice flu-like symptoms. You should also ask your health care provider about anti-viral medication. If you already have flu symptoms, antivirals have been very effective at keeping the flu from getting worse.

Even if you don’t have a chronic illness, if you have symptoms and they get worse -your fever spikes, you have difficulty breathing, if you have chest pain or you’re breathing too fast – call a doctor or other health provider right away.

Make it part of your daily routine to keep the flu from spreading.

The H1N1 vaccine may not have arrived in your area yet, so keep doing the simple things recommended to keep germs in check: Wash your hands, cough and sneeze into your sleeve, not your hands, and disinfect surfaces including computer keyboards and countertops.

No one knows whether this wave of H1N1 will get worse, taper off or be followed by another wave later in the season. But, we do know that preventing the flu depends on all of us, and everyone will be safer if each one of us is serious about preventing and reducing H1N1.

Kathleen Sebelius is the secretary of the U.S. Health and Human Services. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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