Freshman Findings: Jousting with germs in college

headshot2_WEBWell it’s that time of the year again, so bring out the Kleenex. All around campus, students’ constant gossip continues, only this time with a sniffle in between sentences. It seems like every year students on college campuses nationwide are exposed to a new outbreak of a particular strain of illnesses. These illnesses are difficult to avoid, and often leave students with constant sniffling and uncontrollable coughing. Although move-in day was only weeks ago, many students have settled in and have brought their germs with them.
The topic of college health does not necessarily always receive the attention it deserves. College illness is more common than most of us would think. The average student who enters college worries about roommate drama, fitting in, balancing school work, and time management. However, the possibility of getting sick rarely runs through one’s mind. In college, students share spaces constantly and interact with hundreds of people each day. Whether it involves doing something as simple as holding a door for someone or lounging in a classmate’s dorm, we are constantly interacting with each other and our germs. Millions of college students are surrounded in crowded spaces each day and for many the crowded spaces go beyond school hallways. Many students forget that they can create a healthy environment by adopting a few simple habits.
“The Rider Plague,” as some may call it, continues to spread throughout classrooms, hallways and residence halls. Students can be seen on campus carrying cough drops, tissues and hot beverages to try to control their specific health issues. Many students attempt to personally diagnose themselves; however, it is safer to go to a doctor or the Health Center to have a professional diagnosis. If a sickness escalates, it becomes easier for other students to catch it.
According to Dr. Guy Napolitana, chairman of the primary care department at the Lahey Clinic in Burlington, Mass., “Living in a closed environment like a college dormitory introduces a whole set of college health issues that college-aged students do not have to deal with at home.” Students live in small areas, which means that germs are everywhere. It is evident that the dorm space is not the only thing being shared.
Many students ask the same questions: “What’s out there?” “What is there to be afraid of?” and the million dollar question: “Why am I sick?” The most common sicknesses being spread around college campuses include respiratory infection, influenza, strep throat, meningitis and mononucleosis. These illnesses are considered communicable and can be passed by coughing, sneezing, exchanging of bodily fluids or coming into contact with contaminated items.

The Kryptonite of Medication
Sicknesses cannot be completely avoided by taking vitamins or wearing appropriate clothing. Mental wellness has as much to do with getting sick as physical wellness. Feeling “under the weather” happens to everyone. Even the healthiest of people get an occasional cold or virus. According to Dr. Mehmet Oz, some helpful habits to start adding to a healthy college lifestyle include the following:
Sleep.  Although college can be stressful, students need seven to nine hours of rest a night in order to perform at their best.
Relax. Stress can get the best of us, so find a hobby or make time to watch your favorite TV show. Exercise and relaxation can be therapeutic and can cleanse the soul.
Eat. Eating a well-balanced meal goes a long way. To have a strong immune system, your body must have the proper nutrients to fight sickness.
Last, but certainly not least, clean. Your living space is an essential part of your environment.  Practicing good hygiene, such as showering daily and washing hands frequently, is the best way to prevent the spreading of germs.
Worrying causes stress hormone levels to rise, which weakens the body’s overall immunity. Vitamin D deficiency can cause immune systems to grow weak. Adding a decent amount of vitamin D to diets helps fight off germs.
Avoiding close contact goes a long way, too. By keeping your distance from others who are sick, you protect yourself. If you are very sick, chances are you are contagious. Although many think that class attendance is mandatory, if you are sick you should stay home from school and avoid running errands. This will help prevent others from catching your illness. Flu shots are now available in the health center, and are beneficial as they protect us from influenza viruses that will likely occur in the upcoming season.
The most important step is to cover your nose and mouth with a tissue, or to cough into your elbow. “The Rider Plague” will only exist if we let it.

-Mary-Lyn Buckley
Freshman journalism major


Printed in the 10/08/14 issue.

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