Illnesses on College Campuses

POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y — Syracuse University has an outbreak of mumps cases on campus, which started back in late September. In early October, a message was sent out to the campus saying that the number had risen from two to eight. However, by mid-October, the numbers had increased to 24 confirmed and 26 probable cases of mumps. (Update: as of Nov. 17, there were 42 confirmed and 79 probable cases.)

Dr. Melissa Schiskie, director of Health Services at Marist College.

“Mumps are definitely a hot topic in college health,” Dr. Melissa Schiskie, the director of Health Services at Marist College, said.

While mumps seem to be on the rise on college campuses across the nation, all kinds of illnesses can be found at college. Since students are eating, learning, studying, sleeping and living in one area with thousands of other students, it’s not surprising that many, if not most, students get sick over the course of the year.

“Given the college environment, there’s a lot of potential for viral infections and such to linger,” Dr. Schiskie said. Marist’s Health Services “tends to be fairly busy all the time and it just varies in the complaints of what people are coming in for.”

While there are no mumps cases as of yet that the Health and Wellness Center at Marist has encountered, SUNY New Paltz was not so fortunate in 2016. In early October – and lasting until early March 2017 – SUNY New Paltz experienced an outbreak of mumps. The New York State Department of Health confirmed that at least 63 people were affected, according to an abc7ny article.

“Interestingly, a lot of the cases that have been seen…have occurred in folks that have been fully immunized,” Dr. Schiskie said. “Some of that may be due to, what we call ‘waning immunity’, where people were immunized, but over time, their immunity has declined.” However, Dr. Schiskie did point out that for those that had been immunized, if they got mumps, their cases were milder than those that had not been immunized.

While mumps may be a top-of-the-mind college campus illness, it isn’t the only one that students should be on the lookout for.

Katie Murray, a junior Public Relations major, started feeling sick during the last week of September.

Katie Murray, a junior public relations major at Marist, has been sick at least once every semester. Freshman year, it was a cough that was likely bronchitis, sophomore year it was pink eye and a cold. This year, it looks like bronchitis again.

Murray started feeling sick the last week of September. “I woke up and I had that sore throat, and I had a fever and I was just miserable all day,” Murray said. She went to a walk-in clinic off-campus, where they told her it was either bronchitis or pneumonia, although she assumed it was bronchitis because she’s had that before.

The doctor “said that she heard a rattle in my chest – in my lungs – and she knew it had to be one of the two,” Murray said. “So it wasn’t even worth exposing me to the radiation of a chest x-ray to figure out which one it was…if she was going to give me antibiotics anyways.”

Seasonal allergies could still be affecting students, especially those who aren’t used to the environmental allergens of the area. It’s also common now to have a viral respiratory infection or sore throat – and it’s getting close to cough and cold season too.

It’s also the middle of the semester, so students are feeling stressed. “A lot of times, folks are coming in for a lot of fatigue symptoms or getting worn down – that can certainly wear on the body,” Dr. Schiskie said. “Sleep deprivation can increase your risk for infections as well.”

Murray thinks she got sick because of all the illnesses that are happening on campus. “College campuses are kind of like a breeding ground for germs,” Murray said. “It’s inevitable you’ll get sick…We don’t mean to spread germs – it just kind of happens.”

That’s why Dr. Schiskie emphasizes the importance of washing your hands. “You’re in such close quarters as college students, so hand hygiene is very important,” Dr. Schiskie said.

To hopefully avoid getting sick, she advises keeping your products to yourself and not sharing things like water bottles and utensils. However, if you do get sick, pay attention to what your body is telling you.

“Part of it is listening to your body and paying attention to it,” Dr. Schiskie said. “So knowing if you are feeling under the weather, that’s a good time for you to pay more attention to your sleep, to your nutrition and your fluids…Help your body focus on healing.”

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