Few things would make Dan Hyslop, M.D., happier than plunging a syringe into about 9,000 arms.
Hyslop, as director of LMU Student Health Services, oversees a moderate-size public health center with responsibility for more than 9,000 LMU undergraduates, faculty and staff who breathe the same air, handle the same door knobs and pick over one another’s french fries in the Lair. If he and his team of nurses, nurse practitioners and support staff could thoroughly vaccinate the campus community, LMU would be well-prepared for flu season.
Although children younger than 5 and people older than 65 are at greater risk than others for serious flu-related complications, a campus can also be a comfortable home for a circulating virus, Hyslop says. Students usually have strong immune systems. But a novel flu strand, for which there is little immunity in the population, could have a serious impact. A scenario like the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, which killed between 20 and 40 million people, may be difficult to imagine today. But even a far more limited outbreak would be devastating.
In 2013–14, SHS treated about 20 cases of flu and gave about 260 vaccinations. Hyslop finds himself fighting not just the virus but myths about the flu vaccine. The No. 1 myth is that the vaccine can give you the flu. Not true, says Hyslop. Second, people sometimes think because they’ve never had the flu, they’re not susceptible. False. This season’s virus is rarely the same as last season’s. Third, there’s the notion that having the flu is a minor inconvenience.
“A flu is not going four days with a bad cold,” Hyslop says. “With a flu, you feel like you’re going to die. About 25 percent of people get pneumonia or an ear infection. People with the flu have said to me, ‘I was unable to do anything for two weeks.’ ”
SHS is stocked with vaccines for several conditions, including hepatitis A and B, human papillomavirus, meningitis and chickenpox. Outbreaks of meningitis at UC Santa Barbara in 2014 and MRSA at USC in 2002 provided lessons to university health centers everywhere. Also, society’s improved disaster planning for terrorism or natural disasters has aided LMU’s preparation for pandemics as well as earthquakes, Hyslop says.
Still, the most important preventive step may be getting the shot in the arm. “I’ve worked here for 27 years,” says Hyslop. “I deal with sick people face-to-face. I get vaccinated every year, and I’ve never had the flu. There is no way I would go through the flu season without the flu shot.”