Learning More About Vaccines

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by Katelyn Maddox

The COVID-19 vaccine is already helping control the spread of COVID-19 worldwide, but how much do you know about vaccines in general?

Children are born with an immune system that has not been exposed and infected with many foreign antigens, so often when kids first get exposed to a disease, the immune system is not able to produce antibodies fast enough to properly fight the disease. Though newborns often have antibodies from their mothers, they go away during the baby’s first year. Immunity is what occurs after the body has produced antibodies so that the next time infection occurs the body is able to produce antibodies fast enough to fight the illness.

Vaccines are used to help an immune system become stronger and protect it from different harmful diseases. Throughout the years, they have saved millions of lives. They have proven especially life-saving in immunocompromised populations, like children and older adults. In the United States, vaccines for polio, smallpox, diphtheria, tetanus, rubella, measles, and mumps and more have been used to help reduce or eradicate the diseases. Smallpox, for example, killed over 300 million people in the world in the 1900s, but due to vaccination it is completely eradicated. Even if a disease is not common in the U.S., complete eradication is rare and worldwide travel can make diseases easy to spread so diseases that are preventable by vaccine require high vaccination rates to avoid.

Vaccines work by stimulating the body’s adaptive immune system and producing antibodies against a specific disease. Often, a weakened form of the disease, such as smallpox, is injected into your body and then your body creates antibodies to fight the weakened disease. This way, if you’re exposed to the actual disease then the antibodies the vaccine helped create will destroy and fight off the actual disease (the foreign antigens). The injected antigens are weakened so they don’t cause disease, but they are able to produce antibodies to contribute to immunity.

Some children and adults are unable to be vaccinated. There can be many reasons for this, such as age limits or specific medical conditions, so immunization helps protect others in the community. The more people who have taken a vaccine, the less the disease can spread. High vaccination rates are essential because low vaccinate rates can allow diseases to spread again. Everyone needs vaccines. There are more than 12 different vaccines recommended for children to receive before their 6th birthday and there are vaccines intended for later in life too. In order to prevent the spread of contagious diseases, immunizations are key.

There have been many advancements in vaccine creation and usage since the first vaccines were created. We now use vaccines containing weak, live, or killed microorganisms/viruses, as well as protein and/or mRNA. In the 21st century, vaccines are as important as a regular health check-up and are a vital part of preventative care. The U.S. requires stringent regulations for vaccines and has long approval processes for safety, and any side effects (such as a fever) are often considered normal and less severe than the actual disease as your body builds immunity.

In order to protect yourself, your family, and your friends, talk to a healthcare professional about which vaccines are recommended for you today. The CDC is also a great resource for most vaccination questions and further reading.

Why Are Vaccines Important

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by Nancy Huber

Eating well, exercising, practicing yoga and mindfulness, getting enough sleep, managing stress, and laughing (yes, laughing) are a few of the things we do during our life to stay healthy.

Another important item that definitely belongs on this list is getting vaccinations.  On that note, you might not have heard the U.K. was the first nation to administer fully vetted and authorized COVID-19 vaccines to its citizens.  A 90-year-old woman was first to receive it.  The second was 81-year-old William Shakespeare.  Everyone made a big deal of his name, but it seems to be Much Ado About Nothing.

It’s easy to get a vaccine, and when you do you are helping not only yourself stay healthy,  but your friends, family, community, and humanity too.  From infancy through adulthood, everyone needs vaccines.

Getting vaccinated is important for many reasons.  It aids in protecting us from diseases, thus preventing disabilities and complications such as hearing loss, seizures, arm or leg amputations, brain damage and even death.  Equity in immunization can contribute to health and economic advantages  by preventing illness and the high cost of treatment.  It saves millions of dollars in healthcare costs.  Getting vaccinated enables us to live healthier and fuller lives.

The immediate benefit of getting a vaccine is individual immunity.  That leads to long-term and, at times, lifelong protection against contracting a disease.  But if vaccination rates drop to low levels it’s possible to have outbreaks of epidemics of diseases we thought had been subdued.

In the past 18 months we have all learned much about the importance of achieving herd immunity with COVID-19.  Specific rates of vaccination–which vary widely by disease but are always less than 100 percent–result in herd immunity.  Once that’s achieved it’s difficult for a disease to continue to spread because there are not enough susceptible individuals left to infect.  Herd immunity is particularly helpful for infants too young for certain vaccines and those not able to get vaccinated for health reasons.  So even for diseases that don’t see 100-percent vaccination rates, herd immunity picks up the slack to protect the entire community.

Before vaccines it was common to lose many children in the same family to certain diseases such as Whooping Cough (Pertussis), which can cause uncontrollable coughing, making it difficult to breathe; Measles, which can cause serious complications like pneumonia, seizures and encephalitis; and Diptheria, which can cause a thick coating in the back of the throat or nose, making it hard to swallow or breathe.

Thanks to worldwide vaccination efforts another disease, Polio, which causes paralysis, has been nearly eradicated after having been epidemic in the U.S. in the 1950s.  In 2000 the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Measles eliminated, too.  But because of international travel it reemerges at times, causing pockets of outbreaks.  This is much as it was thousands of years ago, when increasing migration, exploration, and trade led to the spread of many diseases.

Also called the “speckled monster” because of the scarring it causes, Smallpox is the only disease to be totally eliminated.  That was declared in 1980 and credited to a worldwide vaccination campaign.  (You might remember getting a smallpox vaccine as a child, the scratching of the needle on your upper arm leaving a more desirable telltale scar.)  Smallpox appeared around 10,000 B.C.  It was frequently epidemic in the Middle Ages and caused massive destruction.  An estimated 300 million people have succumbed to its ravages.

Attempts to inoculate  against smallpox date back to at least the 1500s, when the Chinese ground up dried smallpox scabs into a powder and blew it up the nostrils, which might sound rather unpleasant.  But only one to two percent died from this deliberate infection, called variolation, compared to the 30 percent who died after contracting the disease naturally.  In 1798 the smallpox vaccine was the first to be developed against a contagious disease.

Other diseases have declined thanks to vaccines, and today many are almost gone in the US.  A few examples of more-recent vaccines saving lives are Meningitis and Rotavirus, and the HPV vaccine is helping to prevent cancer.  New vaccines are always in the works, such as for HIV.

Experts have concluded that the use of vaccines has prevented and will continue to prevent tens of thousands of deaths and spare millions of episodes of disease in children and other vulnerable populations in the US alone.

We should not let time blur memories of the devastation caused by disease in the days before vaccines.  The fight against our current pandemic, COVID-19, has shown how important it is to agree to develop, promote, and provide vaccines to the world to improve health and save lives.

6 Tips for Adjusting to College Dorm Life

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If you are reading this, it probably means that you are preparing for one of the most extraordinary adventures of your life. Even with all the difficulties and stress related to studying, this is the period of your life you will remember fondly. It is the time when you will have the most fun. All the crazy stories you will tell while reminiscing your youth will have one thing in common – they happened in college. And living in a students’ dorm plays a considerable part in the awesomeness that college life is. That said, adjusting to college dorm life will be necessary. But no worries, it won’t take too long before you start enjoying all the college life has to offer.

Regardless of how excited you are about living independently and taking care of yourself for the first time, be ready for something of an emotional rollercoaster once you first get there. It will be the first time you share your living space with a roommate not related to you. The fact that you have separated from your family becomes real. Everything in your life is new. While undoubtedly exhilarating, it is also pretty overwhelming. You may feel lonely and homesick at times. However, there is no need for despair. It’s all too common and passes quickly, especially if you follow a few tips to help you accustom to your new way of life. And if things become too stressful to bear, counseling is always a great option. Sometimes, we all need some help to kickstart making progress.

1. Make your dorm room feel like home

There is no better way to make a place feel homey and comfortable than making it look yours. Therefore, remember to bring some items you will decorate your room with. Personalize it with posters, pillows, or plants. Photos of your family, friends, and pets are an excellent idea. Also, some objects from your old room will remind you of home. If you have your favorite blanket, lamp, or even a chair from your old room, you will settle faster. It will also feel like you have brought a piece of your home with you.

When you decorate your room, make sure you choose ornaments and color schemes that reflect your style. However, don’t forget to check the school rules before making any changes, as there are restrictions as to the extent of your decorating. But regardless of the limitations, there are always simple ways to bring a piece of yourself into space.

Important note: Remember that you will be sharing the room with another thinking and breathing human being. So, before you get your belongings ready to be transferred to your new place, make sure they are on board with all your ideas and desires.

2. Shared space requires some ground rules

The existence of a single room has been rumored, but few have lived to see it. Jokin aside, chances are you will share your room with another person. For this reason, setting some ground rules from the word go is a must. Approach the matter with a friendly tone and discuss some basic house rules. For example, sleeping and cleaning schedules are critical points you have to be on the same page about. If one of you vapes or is a smoker, it may be best to quit those habits. Also, having people over is something you must discuss.

Even if you are not a perfect match in terms of your lifestyle preferences, you can compromise. Know that it’s okay if your college roommate doesn’t end up being one of your closest friends. But it’s in your best interest not to allow an intolerable living situation to take reigns in a small shared space.

3. Remember to live life outside the dorm too

Now that you have made your new room cozy and comfortable, it’s time to go out. No, really. Adjusting to college dorm life implies meeting other people, going for walks, studying at a library. Your room shouldn’t be like a prison cell. Sure, you can do everything there. But being confined in a small space for extended periods can make anyone go crazy.

You need time for yourself outside of your dorm. So go to a café, find a spot in a park where you can unwind and enjoy a change of scenery. If you try to form positive habits while in college, it will prove extremely beneficial.

4. Planning a monthly budget is an indispensable part of adjusting to college dorm life

Being in charge of your financials for the first time in your life may be challenging. Staying on top of everything may feel overwhelming. Therefore, plan your monthly budget carefully. It will give you a boost in confidence regarding your financial decisions and provide you with structure and organization.

Two sound pieces of advice to get you started:

  • set some money aside for emergencies
  • don’t overuse your credit card.

5. Get to know your Residential Advisor

In times of trouble, a Residential Advisor (RA) can be of tremendous help. Should you get into a conflict with your roommate or there’s an issue with your room, your RA is the person you turn to. RAs typically introduce themselves to new students, and sometimes there are regular floor meetings. That is the time to start interacting with them. They are usually students from upper classes whose job is to supervise several rooms in the dorm.

Although they will represent a sort of parental supervision, make no mistake – they are students too. And they, too, have a lot on their plate – work, studies, free time. So, try not to make their life more difficult. It’s in your best interest to build a rapport with them.

6. Keep in touch with your old friends and family

Even with all the excitement of the newness dorm life brings, many new students experience homesickness. For that reason, it’s important to make your room feel like home, go out and explore campus, meet new people and build a relationship with your roommate. But it’s also important to remember your family and friends and reach out to them. Sure, the new chapter of your life has started, but that doesn’t mean you should dismiss your old connections.

Adjusting to college dorm life will largely depend on your personality. While some students instantly feel at home, others need a lot more time to settle in. If you are among the latter group, know that you can, and you will enjoy dorm life. It may just take a bit more time to get there. Remember that the most important thing is not to get cooped up in your room. Go out, explore the campus, breathe the fresh air, and find a spot outside you will call yours.

Let’s Talk About STI’s

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Let's talk about STIs

What are STI’s? STI, stands for sexually transmitted infection, which is an infection that is transmitted during sexual contact with someone who has an STI. Common STI’s include: Bacterial (Gonorrhea, Syphilis, Chlamydia) Parasites (Trichomoniasis) and viruses like HIV. I will be discussing a handful of the more common STIs, such as the symptoms, the mode of transmission, as well as the treatments for it.

The most common STI is the herpes simplex virus, upwards of 80% of the population have herpes. Herpes simplex virus has two distinctive types: HSV- 1 which is transmitted oral-to-oral “kissing” and HSV-2, which is transmitted sexually. Once you are infected with either type of herpes virus, it will remain in your system (though it often is dormant, or doesn’t show any symptoms). According to the WHO: “An estimated 3.7 billion people under age 50 (67%) have HSV-1 infection globally. An estimated 491 million people aged 15-49 (13%) worldwide have HSV-2 infection.” The symptoms of (genital) herpes include pain in the genitalia, and skin rashes, among others. Herpes is treated with antiviral drugs.Despite herpes being relatively common, there is a profound stigma around the herpes virus, a lot of that stems from ignorance about the virus itself. In fact, the virus is incredibly common with upwards of 80% of the population having it. The herpes virus is something that is relatively benign, in fact if you’ve ever had a cold sore, you have the herpes virus, which is typically the HSV-1 type. Herpes, for the most part, is asymptomatic, the vast majority of people that have the virus do not display any symptoms.

Chlamydia, according to the CDC, is one of the most frequently reported bacterial STI’s in the United States. The mode of transmission of chlamydia is, mainly through the exchange of bodily fluids during sex. The available treatments for chlamydia include antibiotics. Although there are symptoms of chlamydia, as is the case of most STIs, the onset of those symptoms are not immediately noticeable. The symptoms could include, discomfort while urinating, excessive discharge, etc. Symptoms differ in all bodies.

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus that primarily targets and affects the immune system of the individual. This can make it dangerous for people with preexisting conditions and those with a compromised immune system. If untreated, HIV can progress to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). The symptoms of HIV may include fevers, chills, muscle weakness, headaches and fatigue, all associated with a weakening of the immune system. The virus has three stages, Acute HIV infection, chronic HIV Infection and AIDS. HIV can also be transmitted through non-sexual means, such as sharing needles. HIV can be transferred from mother to the baby during birth if appropriate health and medical measures are not taken. HIV is common. Unlike during HIV’s inception, today, there is treatment for HIV, such as PreP (pre exposure prophylaxis) which is a medicine that people who are at risk of exposure to HIV can take (and is offered here at myHealth). According to the CDC: “PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex by about 99% when taken as prescribed.”

Destigmatizing Herpes

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In 2018, I had just broken up with my long term boyfriend and rejoined the dating scene. I was single and ready to mingle! I dove head first into hookup culture. I had a new date every other night of the week and not a care in the world. My version of safe sex was being on birth control and briefly asking someone “You’ve been tested, right?” in the heat of the moment. That quickly caught up to me as I was soon diagnosed with genital herpes and sidelined from the dating game.

Navigating a positive STI diagnosis wasn’t easy. Mine came with a lot of shame, self-blame, and anger. I was too embarrassed to tell anyone. I was mourning the life I thought I had to give up on my own. I turned to the internet in hopes of finding some sort of cure (newsflash – it doesn’t exist), but it did lead me to a sex education crash course. Not only in how I should have been properly protecting myself, but that herpes wasn’t the terrifying pictures I was shown once upon a time in sex ed.

Educating myself on herpes made me reevaluate my initial shame. Herpes didn’t make me ‘dirty’, unworthy, or incapable of living a normal life. It didn’t change my personality, hobbies, or my values. My diagnosis was separate from who I was as a person. I began to see herpes not as a curse, but as a way to surround myself with people who would take the time to get to know me for me.

I started sharing my positive STI status with close friends. Each one of them reacted in a supportive way and asked for more knowledge. I gained more confidence with every person I told. Disclosing my status no longer seemed like such a daunting task. It became empowering. I was in control of who I told, I had the opportunity to educate other people, and if someone didn’t like it, I got to walk away knowing that they were missing out on the opportunity to get to know me.

Three years ago I knew herpes was going to change my life, but I didn’t know that it would going to change for the better. Through my diagnosis I established an amazing support system of friends, a sex education that I would have never learned otherwise, and gained confidence within myself. Being diagnosed with herpes or any STI can be scary, but it doesn’t diminish your value as a person. You are still worthy of everything life has to offer.

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