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College students fare better with a flu shot

December 4, 2008 |  1:07 pm

An apple a day may keep the doctor away, and a flu shot could go a long way toward keeping college students from getting sick and missing class.

FluThat’s the conclusion of a recent study that compared how college students fared with and without a flu vaccination. Researchers surveyed 12,795 students through the Internet from 2002 to 2006 on the campuses of the University of Minnesota and St. Olaf College in Minnesota. In all, 30% of the students were vaccinated, and 24% came down with influenza-like illnesses during the flu season.

Those who got the vaccine managed the flu season better than their non-vaccinated peers, having a 30% lower rate of flu-like sickness. Those who got the shot also missed class and work less often, used antibiotics less frequently, saw the doctor less often, and were better able to keep up with their usual activities.

Researchers from the Minneapolis VA Medical Center and the University of Minnesota point out that though studies have been done showing the effect of flu vaccines on the adult working population, the effect on college students’ class attendance and performance wasn’t well known. Although they cite some limitations to the study (it was an observational study using self-reporting, not a randomized clinical trial, and the types of vaccines the students received weren’t tracked), the results suggest that vaccines may have a beneficial effect.

In the study, published in the December issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, researchers wrote, "Cold/flu/sore throat has been identified as the second leading cause of impediments to academic performance among college and university students across the United States. Influenza-like illnesses undoubtedly are major contributors to this burden. ... Our findings highlight the kinds of benefits that could accrue to the nearly 18 million college and university students in this country if they were vaccinated."

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo: Student nurse Sandy Cervantes prepares a flu shot. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times