ill college students

Avoiding Illness in College

Besides making it to class, staying on top of your homework, working a part-time job, AND balancing a social life, there is one more thing you have to worry about in college—your health. It is all too easy for the pressures of college to get in the way of taking care of yourself, but this is not a task that should be taken lightly. From sleeping inches away from your roommate to sharing restrooms, desks, showers, and dining spaces, the close quarters of college campuses are a prime breeding ground for contagious diseases. Even though you may find yourself wishing you could stay in bed all day and watch Netflix instead of dragging yourself to your 8 AM class, be careful what you wish for. These are the illnesses that strike college students most often:

  • Cold: If you find yourself sniffling, sneezing, coughing, and aching all over, you are most likely the victim of the common cold. Since the cold is a viral infection that does not respond to antibiotics, there is not much you can do, except rest and stay hydrated. As harmless as the common cold may seem, though, you have to give yourself a break, since it is very easy for a neglected cold to lead to a more serious condition, such as bronchitis or pneumonia.
  • Strep throat: This is a very contagious bacterial infection that causes painful symptoms, including high fever and extreme soreness and swelling of the throat and neck. Fortunately, strep throat will usually respond to antibiotics, but only if it is caught early enough.
  • Mono: Mononucleosis is a very serious illness that is transmitted via mucous and saliva. Although it is known as the “kissing disease,” mono can also be spread by sharing food, drinks, and beauty products, such as lipstick, as well.
  • Meningitis: Meningitis is a potentially dangerous infection that causes the membranes that surround your brain and spinal cord to become inflamed. Because this disease is so highly contagious, most schools in the United States require students living in residence halls to receive a vaccination before school starts.
  • Influenza: This viral infection strikes most college campuses every year, causing fever, vomiting, sore throat, cough, muscle aches, and fatigue.

How to Protect Yourself

With your busy schedule, you definitely don’t have time to be sick with the flu for an entire week. To avoid these illnesses and keep your immune system strong, follow these basic steps for protecting yourself during the school year:

  • Get the flu shot: Most college campuses offer the flu shot for free to their students. Take advantage of this opportunity to prevent yourself from spending time and money recovering from the flu.
  • Don’t wash your dishes where you brush your teeth: Just like you wouldn’t bring food into the bathroom, you shouldn’t bring your dishes there either. Bathroom surfaces become contaminated very easily, and by sharing a space in this way, you are exposing yourself to diarrhea-causing noroviruses. If you only have one sink in your dorm room, take your dishes to the dorm kitchen, or simply use paper plates instead.
  • Get enough sleep: Doctors recommend that college-age students should be getting at least seven to nine hours of sleep every night in order to keep the immune system working as it should. By procrastinating and staying up until 3 AM working on a paper due the next day, you are running your body down and putting yourself at risk for picking up any bacterial or viral infections you are exposed to.
  • Keep personal items personal: Sharing might be caring, but not when it means sacrificing your health. Diseases like mono and strep throat are easily spread by sharing food and drinks with your friends, and infections like staph cling to inanimate objects such as towels and clothing.
  • Use hand sanitizer: Illnesses are always going around on college campuses, so it is especially important for you to use hand sanitizer frequently. In addition, make sure you avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth as much as possible.
  • Relax: Finally, as stressful as college can be, try to find something that helps you unwind. Stress can wreak havoc on your body, so look into yoga classes or spend a few minutes each day doing something that brings you enjoyment. 


Last Updated: September 29, 2015