Immunity in the College Environment

Every year, students leave for college and say goodbye to their parents, often resulting in an additional farewell to their health. Without their parents’ constant nagging to take vitamins and dress warmly, many college students end up prioritizing other tasks over their own health.

Homesickness isn’t the only sickness spreading; the flu and the common cold find themselves attacking anyone they can. Each cough, each sneeze, spreads infectious droplets that can cause the whole floor to become sick. Trash cans pile up with used tissues while roommates buy new jugs of hand sanitizer. Chamomile tea is depleted from the store shelves, and tissues boxes are emptied.

Ninad Bhat, a student coordinator for Unit 1’s Health Workers Program, admits that “the most common vector of illness is other students.” Whether this means living with other people or sitting next to the sick kid in class, microbes are spreading among the student population. Luckily, there are many ways to prevent these illnesses from making an impact on one’s own health. According to Bhat, proper sleep, personal hygiene, and proper nutrition alone are already enough to maintain the strength of one’s immune system.

However, in the case that one does get ill, it is important to receive proper treatment. While the common cold and flu may resolve themselves within a week with the help of over-the-counter drugs, they present with symptoms that may also imply a greater viral or bacterial infection. Conveniently, the Tang Center on Bancroft is open to all registered students, regardless of insurance, and it provides services by board-certified physicians to get students back on a healthy track.

Unfortunately, those popular frat parties that a majority of students experience at some point during their college careers are an entirely different environment. Isabella Brandes, student coordinator for PartySafe@Cal, an organization hosted by University Health Services, “focuses on mitigating the risk of over-intoxication and alcohol poisoning by engaging and educating party hosts and attendees to implement safety measures to protect their attendees.” Over-intoxication and alcohol poisoning can also be considered illnesses in that they affect body systems and can lead to the inability to do typical tasks. In these circumstances, immunity refers to the ability to stop oneself from giving into the peer pressure and consuming alcohol in large amounts.

Cold, clammy skin. Unresponsive or unable to be roused. Slow breathing. Puking repeatedly or uncontrollably. CUSP is an acronym provided by the Health Workers Program for students to keep in mind whenever alcohol is present as these are signs of severe alcohol poisoning. PartySafe recommends calling medical assistance if someone is seen with these symptoms, and in the meantime, rolling the victim on his/her side with the mouth propped open will prevent choking. In cases of impairment without the symptoms of poisoning, fluids and non-salty carbohydrates are effective for recovery.

Through various preventative measures, common illnesses can be avoided. As Bhat explains, “The best way to stay healthy when surrounded by people you don’t know is to get to know them and work together to prevent illness.”

This article was originally published in the Fall 2016 print issue.