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Student Health Center hit hard by flu season 

Campus healthcare providers say that over-preparation for sickness in past led to shortage of vaccines

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UNLV’s Student Health and Wellness Center (SRWC) is currently out of the influenza vaccine.

The Wellness Center had previously been offering the vaccine free of charge to students, faculty and staff but ran out before the start of winter break.

The Wellness Center had ordered a pre-determined quantity of 800 vaccines for this year’s flu season, basing the numbers off of last year’s use. After running out in late November they ordered an additional 100, which were quickly used up before classes ended for the semester.

UNLV Senior Pharmacist Ann Hartig said that though the Wellness Center did run out of the vaccine early this season, in past years they have been overly prepared. In the 2011-2012 season they destroyed over 200 unused vaccines, which accounted for this year’s shortfall.

Hartig said that for such a big school, the number of students who take advantage of the free vaccine is surprisingly low.

“It’s notoriously a population that thinks ‘it won’t happen to me,’” Hartwig said about the UNLV student population. “I think they’re not really big users of those vaccines because they’re not mandatory like childhood vaccines. They’re not mandatory to be in school.”

Despite a lack of vaccines, the Wellness Center is offering symptomatic care to the UNLV population. The pharmacy keeps in stock complimentary flu kits that contain individual-use packets of acetaminophen and ibuprofen, a surgical facemask and throat lozenges. They are available at the pharmacy in the SRWC.

Consultations with an on-campus healthcare provider are also available to students free of charge. According to Hartig, there are usually five to six providers, nurse practitioners and doctors, available to see patients on school days. The Wellness Center starts taking appointments at 8 a.m. and most students can be seen on the same day.

Hartig offered one main piece of advice for influenza prevention: Wash your hands.[flickr id="8411244782" thumbnail="small" overlay="true" size="large" group="" align="right"]

“Wash your hands. Wash your hands. Wash your hands,” Hartig said. “Don’t put your hands near your face.” She added, jokingly, “If you could go out in the world not touching anything, you’d be great.”

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, influenza is widespread in every state across the map this week, excluding Tennessee and the District of Columbia. But Public Information Manager of the Southern Nevada Health District Jennifer Sizemore assured that the local outbreak is moderate.

“Every flu season is an epidemic,” said Dr. Linh Nguyen, an epidemiologist for the Southern Nevada Health District. “An epidemic is when you see more cases than you would expect to see.”

Nguyen remarked that the best protection against the flu is vaccination. It takes about two weeks from the time of being vaccinated to receive full protection.

Despite a lack of vaccines on the UNLV campus, Nguyen said the vaccine is supplied in other locations throughout the valley.

The Southern Nevada Health District strictly monitors the outbreak of viruses throughout Clark County and ensures that vaccine supply is current with the outbreak’s reach.

“The season usually peaks early to late February and lasts about three months,” Nguyen said. “It’s hitting more areas earlier than expected and that may be why some areas were unprepared.”

Clark Country’s viral surveillance system currently monitors 10 different respiratory viruses that circulate the Valley. According to Nguyen, respiratory viruses including influenza have been circulating at high levels the past six weeks.

Flu vaccines are still widely available at pharmacies throughout the greater Las Vegas area and the Southern Nevada Health District offers vaccines at public health centers throughout Clark County.

Visit their website to find a location near you: http://www.southernnevadahealthdistrict.org/immunizations/flu-shots.php

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