"Some reports of influenza outbreaks on college and university campuses have documented even higher rates of illness among the students," the authors said.
"Undoubtedly, influenza is common among college and university students, and its prevention might have an important impact on their health and well-being," they added.
For the study, Kristin L. Nichol, M.D., M.P.H., M.B.A., and colleagues at the VA Medical Center and University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, examined 12,975 students on two campuses and over four separate flu seasons between 2002 and 2006.
Participants completed an initial questionnaire about demographic and health characteristics during October, and then monthly follow-up surveys between November and April regarding influenza-like illnesses and their effects on daily life. Vaccination status was assessed at the last follow-up survey.
Overall, 30.2 percent of the students were vaccinated, and 24.1 percent experienced at least one flu-like illness during flu season.
The researchers found that those who were vaccinated were significantly less likely to develop such an illness than those who were not vaccinated.
"Vaccination was also associated with significant reductions in influenza-like illness-associated provider visits, antibiotic use, impaired school performance and numbers of days of missed class, missed work and illness during the influenza seasons," the authors said.
When averaged over all the seasons, flu vaccination was associated with a reduction of one-half day of illnesses, so that one-day of illness was prevented for every two students who were vaccinated.
Also, for every 17 students vaccinated, one day of missed class was prevented; 11 vaccinations prevented one day of missed work; and six vaccinations prevented one day spent in bed.
"Current recommendations for the prevention and control of influenza encourage vaccination for all persons 6 months and older who wish to reduce their risk of influenza illness. 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," the authors said.
The study is published in the December issue of Archives of Paediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.