The most common illnesses on campus

College campuses are, in many ways, an excellent breeding ground for diseases. Students’ immune systems are compromised due to lack of sleep, unhealthy eating habits and stress. Plus, communal living and eating and crowded classrooms and bars make the likelihood of coming into contact with germs pretty much inevitable!

You can minimize your chances of contracting a viral or bacterial infection in two easy ways. First, get plenty of sleep. Second, practice good hygiene. Wash your hands frequently, never share eating utensils and keep your distance from any person who is showing signs of illness.

Common Viral Infections

Many of the most common student illnesses are caused by viruses, since the campus environment is very conducive to their rapid spread. Antibiotics can’t be used to treat a virus because they are only effective in combating diseases caused by bacteria. The only treatment for a virus is to wait for your body’s immune system to defeat it. Common viral infections include:

  • The common cold. Upper respiratory infections are frequently referred to as colds. The viruses that cause them can spread through an entire campus population in a matter of days. Symptoms include a stuffed-up nose, a sore throat, coughing, sneezing, a headache and fatigue. Some people may experience a mild fever. Some colds can last up to two weeks. Getting a lot of rest and increasing your vitamin intake (particularly vitamin C) can help speed up recovery. An over-the-counter decongestant or pain killer can be taken to temporarily relieve symptoms.
  • The flu. The influenza virus can infect a large population very quickly, much like the common cold. Symptoms of the flu include fever, chills, head and body aches, sore throat, coughing and sinus congestion. To get better, drink lots of fluids (fruit juice and tea are good; stay away from coffee and cola), stay warm and get as much rest as you can.
  • Stomach flu. Properly known as gastroenteritis, the stomach flu is caused by a viral infection. Symptoms can be very uncomfortable, including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, cramping and, in some cases, fever. To minimize digestive discomfort, drink only clear liquids (water, ginger ale, fruit juice) and eat only bland foods (rice, crackers, bananas). Avoid dairy products.
  • Mono. Mononucleosis is a disease that can be very problematic for a college student because the duration of symptoms is much longer than with any of the common diseases mentioned above. The symptoms of mono may last for several weeks or even months. They include sore throat, fever, fatigue, weakness, swollen tonsils and lymph nodes, rash and loss of appetite or digestive discomfort. Mono is contracted through saliva and has been referred to as the “kissing disease.” As with the other viral diseases mentioned here, rest and increased fluid intake are the best methods for treatment.
  • Pink eye. Conjunctivitis is the proper name for what is commonly called “pink eye.” Symptoms include redness in the eye, discharge from the eye socket, swelling in the eyelids and light sensitivity or other discomfort related to sight. Though it is most often caused by a virus, pink eye can also be caused by bacteria or allergies. Eye drops are required for treatment, so visit your doctor as soon as you can if your eye is displaying the symptoms listed here.

Common Bacterial Infections

Unlike viruses, bacterial infections can be treated with antibiotics. The most common bacterial illnesses on the typical college campus include:

  • Meningitis. Meningococcal meningitis is an inflammation of the brain lining that’s caused by bacteria. Symptoms include fever, nausea, vomiting, headache, sensitivity to light, nasal congestion and a stiff neck. Because of these symptoms, meningitis is often confused with a less serious illness such as a cold or the flu. Though it’s not fully understood why, college students living in dorms are particularly susceptible to meningitis. Students who have never been exposed to the bacterium are the most at risk. Nearly 350 Americans die every year from complications arising out of meningitis, and survivors can face permanent effects such as loss of hearing. It’s vital that all incoming freshmen get vaccinated against this disease.
  • Strep throat. Streptococcus bacteria that reside in the nose and throat are the cause of strep throat. Not all sore throats are strep throat; most are simply viruses. Symptoms of strep throat include difficulty swallowing, red or white spots in the throat, swollen or sore glands, fever, rash and digestive pain or discomfort. If you suspect you have strep throat, visit your doctor for a throat swab test.
  • Infections. All infections are caused by bacteria. If you suspect that you have an ear infection, a bladder infection, an infected wound or any other kind of infection, consult a doctor.

Information regarding STDs can be found in our guide to sex.

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