As Chicago area hospitals continue to turn patients away during a flu outbreak that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention have been calling one of the worst national outbreaks in the last 10 years, Chicago colleges are gearing up to face the health crisis as they welcome students returning to school after winter break.
University health officials at schools like University of Illinois at Chicago, Loyola University and Columbia College are sending out alerts urging students to get flu vaccines and sharing tips to prevent sickness.
Many universities also are offering access to free flu shots on campus. UIC students through the university's CampusCare plan can receive free vaccines at the Family Medical Center. Director of UIC's University Health Service David Mader told the UIC News that it's always better to get the flu shot than not to get it, because the flu shot covers most of the worst strains of influenza. He added that sick students should not come to campus.
Columbia College's spring semester doesn't start until Jan. 28, but the school sent out an alert this week to faculty and staff members who are already on campus with recommendations to get a flu shot and information about how to prevent the spread of germs. Loyola officials issued a similar campus alert Tuesday to notify the university community of the outbreak and encourage individuals who have not yet received a flu shot to get one. Faculty and staff members who participate in Loyola's insurance plan can receive the shot for free.
Classes at Loyola start again Monday, and Loyola's Wellness Center Director Diane Asaro said the school is preparing a website and a flu vaccination clinic on the first day of classes to educate students on how to prepare for what will inevitably be "a busy flu season."
"Students live in close quarters, and with the winter months are more likely to be indoors, so the chances of catching the flu increase in those situations," Asaro said. "We want our students to have a healthy, successful semester, and the flu is something you can at least try to decrease your chances of getting."
Asaro also emphasized the importance of taking advantage of free flu shots on campus.
"A shot only takes a few seconds, but it can really protect someone from catching the flu. I think what's important is utilizing all the tools that we have.
"We're just trying to gear up and be ready instead of being surprised by something," Asaro said. "Let's do everything we can to help prevent this and decrease our chances of getting this."
Erin Vogel is a RedEye special contributor.
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