Student Health and Psychological Services Focuses on Pro-Active Health Education
Anita Roberts (Class of ’91, B.A., Communications; ’04, M.A., Sociology) remembers attending campus health fairs when she was a student at CSU Dominguez Hills. Now, serving the University as health educator in (SHPS), Roberts faces regular challenges on the job, ensuring that students take care of their bodies while professors hone their minds.
“The health fairs back then mostly focused on subjects like nutrition and general topics,” she says, “not a lot about STDs or sexuality. But the issues have always been there. In today’s world, it’s the norm that people are more pro-active in their health. Students are more educated to ask informed questions and encouraged to find out about their health without a stigma attached or being made to feel that certain subjects are taboo. I’m always challenged to update information so I can maintain some kind of edge on the students because there’s so much misinformation that they are exposed to.”
Keeping that edge is part of the mission for Roberts, the doctors, and staff of SHPS, with the spring semester’s focus on groundbreaking herpes research, monthly awareness programs, and general maintenance of physical and mental well-being.
The UCLA Center for Vaccine Research, Harbor-UCLA Medical Center has taken part in the Herpevac project, a study to develop a vaccine against herpes, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. The program has approximately 50 test sites nationwide. Locally, CSUDH has collaborated with UCLA to recruit study subjects since 2003.
Dr. Irina Gaal, chief of medical services, SHPS, reports that the CSUDH campus has provided 75 of its target number of 100 subjects for the study, for a total of 7,500 sought throughout the United States and Canada.
“This has been a very successful program,” she says. “We’re very close to our target, so this semester we may be able to finish up.”
Gaal underscores the advantages for students participating in the Herpevac trial, which is open to women aged 18-30 who have not been exposed to the herpes virus.
“The clinical trial for the Herpevac vaccine is very similar to the clinical trial for the Gardacil vaccine, which protects against HPV, or the human papilloma virus, which causes the cervix to develop pre-cancerous and cancerous changes,” she says. “To give students an idea of how safe the herpes vaccine is, the same process was used for the Gardacil vaccine, resulting in this product, which is also very effective.
“When it is released, Herpevac cost about $120 a shot,” Gaal says. “So this is a chance for students to get the herpes vaccine for free, as part of the study.”
Roberts wants to dispel the myths about vaccinations, especially the fear surrounding Herpevac.
“A lot of students ask me, ‘If I take the vaccine, doesn’t that give me the disease?’ It’s a myth,” she says. “It’s very safe, we’re not injecting people with the disease. The vaccine is an injection with a protein that is similar to what is in the virus. The body generates an immune response to that protein. If the person gets exposed to herpes later on in life, the idea is that they have the antibodies in their body to combat the virus. There is no way that anyone is getting herpes through this vaccine.”
Gaal also recommends the free meningitis vaccine for students aged 18 and under.
“We get this vaccine from the public health department for free, but only under the Vaccines for Children program,” she says, “so that is why there is the 18 and under restriction. After age 19 or older, you have to pay for it, and it’s a very expensive vaccine. Sometimes when people see they’re getting something for free that next year won’t be free anymore, that might convince them to act on it.”
In addition, the Long Beach Health Department offers free and confidential HIV testing for students of all ages, with results available within an hour. The discreet mobile unit visits the campus regularly throughout the semester, and will be available April 11, April 23, and May 7, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“The Long Beach Public Health Department strategically did not want specific advertisement on their mobile unit,” says Roberts. “It simply has ‘The Beach’ painted on it. People feel comfortable knowing that they’re there, and they can bring their friends or their partner to have the test.”
Another ongoing program this semester is Healthy Tuesdays, held the first Tuesday of each month. SHPS kicked off National Nutrition Month with free BMI (body mass index) testing, which reveals a healthy – or unhealthy – weight ratio in accordance with height.
“Obesity is a problem that affects people across the board age-wise,” Roberts says. “It knows no gender or color, and affects how a person feels about themselves.”
With the help of nursing students from Mt. St. Mary’s, Roberts is preparing an analysis of the food available in the Loker Student Union to give the campus a guideline of healthy choices, with a breakdown of calories, carbohydrates, and fat on the items offered. She attributes a lot of eating habits to cultural norms, saying that, “We try to educate students in how to eat on campus and sometimes changing what their parents may have prepared for them at home. I provide educational material that deals specifically with altering preparation techniques, and some replacements for typical foods that are healthier.”
Healthy Tuesdays continues until the end of the semester with information and health screenings available in front of the SHPS Center. April is designated as National Irritable Bowel Syndrome Month, with glucose testing available. May is National Anxiety Disorder Month, featuring psychological counseling and blood pressure checks.
The Spring Health Fair will take place on Wednesday, April 11, in a new location, the Loker Student Union. Among its highlights are the bone marrow and blood drives by the City of Hope, who will be on campus with CSUDH alumnus Jerome Williams (Class of ’91, B.S., Business Administration/Computer Information Systems), who is in the accelerated stages of leukemia. He has been told by doctors that they are not sure how much longer he will live without a compatible bone marrow donor. (For his story, click here) Williams, who is African American, French, and Native American has been involved with not only a search for his own donor, but in building an awareness of the need for donors for patients of color.
“Jerome is still hoping and looking,” Roberts says. “When students see his face, they see themselves. They think he looks so healthy. They think, ‘He was a student here just like I am.’ People can relate to him and want to help.”
Other scheduled exhibitors at press time include 24 Hour Fitness, with a new location in Carson; the CSUDH Alcohol Awareness Coordinating Team; Harbor UCLA Men’s Health; Schnierow Dental Care; National Coalition on Alcohol and Drug Dependency; and Kaiser Permanente. African dance lessons and a performance by dance students from the California Academy of Mathematics and Science (CAMS) will provide entertainment, as well as deejays from KDHR, the Dominguez Hills Internet radio station.
For more information on the Student Health and Psychological Services, go to www.csudh.edu/shps/index.html.
- Joanie Harmon-Whetmore
Photos above: Student Health and Psychological Services offers a full range of educational programs, vaccinations and treatment, psychological counseling, and professional referrals. (L-R) Tiffany Garcia, junior (Criminal Justice); Kiran Sharma, charge nurse; and Michelle Kickuchi, nurse.
Irina Gaal, chief of medical services, is enthusiastic about CSUDH's contribution to a nationwide study on a herpes vaccine.
Photos by Joanie Harmon-Whetmore.