SRU Health Center staff gears up for ‘war on flu’

a Flu shot being administered

Sept. 14, 2018

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - How can anyone not be excited for the arrival of fall? Between apple picking, pumpkin spice lattes, Halloween and ... ACHOO! Oh yeah, flu season. Okay, we can see where the last item might not have you that enthusiastic about the change in seasons, but come the arrival of that crisp weather, catching the flu bug can lead to missed classes or work and falling behind.

Fortunately, the staff at Slippery Rock University's Student Health Center are taking a stand against influenza and are prepared to help students, staff and faculty stay out of bed and "in the game" this flu, or should we say fall, season.

Benkesser profile photo

   BENKESSER

"Last year's run of the flu was the worst season we've seen since the swine flu outbreak of 2009," said Kris Benkeser, SRU director of student health and wellness. "There are three locations where influenza runs rampant: daycares, prisons and college campuses. This is because of poor hand washing, lots of body contact and small environments where a lot of people gather. This makes the flu easily transferable as coughing and sneezing is at an all-time high.

So what does one do to combat being in one of Benkeser's top three "petri dishes?"

"The best defense is good offense and I'm not talking about buddying up to Ben Roethlisberger," Benkeser said. "The two biggest things you can do are get a flu shot and wash your hands. And let me assure everyone that getting a flu shot will not make you sick. It's impossible to get sick, because it's a dead virus (in the vaccine).

"After receiving the vaccine, some people feel feverish, have a runny nose or the area where you got the shot might be sore ... and people interpret that as them getting sick, but in reality, it is their immune system kicking in."

Grace Hajave, a registered nurse at the SHC, stressed the importance of taking care of oneself during flu season and the importance of hand washing. "It takes 20-30 seconds to wash your hands properly," she said. "If you're not sure how long that is, sing the 'Happy Birthday' song to yourself twice and you'll be good."

Benkeser and Hajave are not only united in their battle against the flu through vaccine, but also in the fact you're not only protecting yourself but those around you.

"In a way, you are also 'taking one for the team' in a manner of speaking because the more people that are immunized, the less chance of the virus finding an appropriate host," said Benkeser. "People ask, 'Well, why does (getting a flu shot) matter?' It matters because some people are very immunocompromised. People with HIV, those receiving cancer treatments or suffering from chronic disease and people who are very young and elderly are susceptible to influenza and that's where we see our highest death rates. One of the ways we keep people safe is to get the flu shot. Let's help keep grandma and grandpa alive."

Benkeser said that it is recommended to get flu shots as soon as possible as it takes approximately two weeks for antibodies to form and "prepare for battle" with the flu bug.

Benkeser and her staff suggest getting enough sleep, hydrating, eating better, coping with stress correctly and getting at least 30 minutes of exercise per day as ways to fight the flu.

"Whenever you sleep, that's when your immune system does its repair work," said Benkeser. "Every night, it does a full body scan trying to fix all the things that are wrong. Though like all good things, it takes some time, so four hours isn't enough. For your mind, it's not enough time to move information from short term to long term memory. For your body, it's not enough time for the chemicals in the brain to work for mood stabilization and it's especially not enough time for your immune system to beef up its defenses. So when students stay up thinking they are being productive, they are really short-changing themselves in the long run on a lot of fronts."

Benkeser said that while the right amount of sleep varies from person to person, most college students are still growing and can need upwards of 10 hours of sleep per day.

Hydration is also key to good health. "Students need to keep themselves hydrated," said Laura Hawkins, SHC nursing supervisor. "It's amazing how little fluids most get and a lot of the fluids we drink tend to dehydrate us, including coffee and soda."

So now you've decided to get a flu shot and are wondering how easy is it for students, faculty or staff to get one?

Flu shots are free and readily available to all SRU students through the SHC.

Employees have three on-campus days during which they can receive free flu shots. Giant Eagle pharmacists will be on campus to administer flu shots to University employees from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Oct. 2 in the Smith Student Center, Room 321 and from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Oct. 16 at the ARC.

Pharmacists from Rite Aid will do likewise from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sept. 26 in the Smith Student Center Theatre.

The vaccine is free for employees, spouses and domestic partners with a University insurance plan. No registration is required. However, participants must present their insurance card. Employees with other non-University insurance plans are welcome, but may be subject to co-pays or co-insurance determined by your particular plan.

Another opportunity to obtain a flu shot is during HealthFest. The 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Oct. 16 event at the ARC is open to the campus and community and includes exhibitors representing SRU departments and organizations and external health-service providers. The event features many types of health screenings.

All students who receive a flu shot at the SHC or HealthFest will be entered into a prize drawing.

MEDIA CONTACT: Lesa Bressanelli | 724.738.2091 | lnb1009@sru.edu