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Biology 103
Web Reports 1997
From Serendip

Nicole Stevenson

College is arguably the four most stressful years of one's life. Suddenly you are on your own, far from the comforts of the nest; you must make many decisions and learn to find your own way. These stresses intermingled with lack of sleep and the poor diet of a college student, lead to a lower immunity and often sickness. It is common to hear coughs and sniffles in the classroom once the weather changes and these symptoms will not disappear until well into the spring. It can be as bad as a light runny nose or hit you like a freight train and keep you in bed for weeks. You do not have time or extra energy to spare for sickness but that does not matter. Illness will arrive like clockwork, most of the time when you can least afford it.

Many viruses, bacteria, and other various ill-causing agents plague college campuses. They breed in the dining halls, communal bedrooms and locker rooms. They are easily picked up and spread amongst friends and strangers. They are not partial, no one is spared. The less sleep you get the easier you will catch whatever is floating around. The sicknesses tear through groups of friends like the Plague. If a friend has it, not to worry, you are not far behind. The list of possible ailments of the typical college student is extensive. There are four main, basic ones that seem to circulate the most freely; they are the common cold, strep throat, the flu, and mononucleosis.

The common cold is just that, ordinary and widespread. It is found everywhere and everyone contracts it multiple times between the first chilly day in fall and the last day of spring exams. It originates in the upper respiratory tract and is introduced in the form of a viral infection. Symptoms range in severity and basically include stuffy or runny nose, cough, congestion, sneezing, headache, general all-over ache and tiredness. If not taken care of, a little cold can totally wipe you out, land you in bed for days, deem you unable to do much of anything other than blow your nose, complain, and sleep. Sometimes the common cold can even lead to bigger, nastier illnesses, such as bronchitis, pneumonia, and sinusitis. Once the system is weakened it is susceptible to just about everything out there (1, 4).

There are many strains of the common cold which are caused by different viruses. The most common virus is the rhinovirus and is the cause of the majority of colds during the season. The other common cold causing infections are the parainfluenza virus, the respiratory syncytial virus, and the coronavirus 4). As a cold is caused by a virus and not a bacteria, medications such as antibiotics are useless in fighting the nasty symptoms. Colds generally just need to run their course, which can last as long as two weeks. Certain remedies, however, have been found to lessen the severity of the illness. Both over the counter and prescription decongestants and antihistamines are often suggested along with a strict regiment of lots of sleep, fluids and a good diet. People often also suggest taking vitamin and mineral supplements such as vitamin C, zinc, ginseng and euchenicia. Foods high in ascorbic acid, such as greens, peppers, melons, and citrus fruits, are also highly suggested in order to combat the illness (2). Nothing quite cures a cold better than a few days in bed, chicken soup, and some mindless television.

Strep throat is another common illness which often runs rampant on college campuses. It is caused by a bacteria called Streptococcus. (biblio#6) Strep is highly contagious but unlike a cold can be knocked out by antibiotics such as penicillin or erythromycin. Symptoms usually start with an awful, searingly sore throat and grow usually to a fever and swollen glands in the neck. Sometimes you can have strep throat and never know it. A mild case can often go away on it's own, usually though only to rear its ugly head later in a stronger form. (biblio#7) It is easy to identify strep through a throat culture and then treat it with antibiotics, sleep and fluids. But if left untreated, strep can lead to much nastier illnesses, such as rheumatic fever, which can affect the heart, kidney disease, toxic shock, or tonsillitis. Along with antibiotics, throat lozenges, warm salt water gargles and humidity are also suggested (6).

Influenza or the "flu" as it is commonly known, is a highly contagious disease that exists in multiple different strains and can shoot down an entire dormitory in epidemic proportions during a single weekend. Much like a cold or strep throat , the flu travels fast and if not treated can become serious and last a long period of time. Similar to the common cold, the flu is caused by a virus, mostly attacking the lungs but also affects other parts of the body. The three types of influenza virus that are identified today are: influenza C which is common but seldom causes disease symptoms, influenza B often causes sporadic outbreaks of the flu, especially in communal settings elementary schools, college dorms, and nursing homes, influenza A is responsible for the classic outbreaks that occur every winter like clockwork (10).

For two days after exposure, the flu virus replicates and spreads throughout the entire body. With medication and plenty of rest and liquids for hydration, the symptoms seem to subside within a few days. Complications such as pneumonia or bloody coughing can develop in the very young or old infected and therefore are considered high risk patients. If not watched and carefully treated, the flu can turn fatal in these patients. Classic symptoms are muscle ache, weakness, fatigue, upset stomach, runny nose, vomiting, diarrhea, and a headache. Unlike the viruses that cause the common cold, the influenza viruses can be fought with both anti-viral medications and vaccinations (11).

Mononucleosis is another big illness that plagues college campuses. This one is probably the worst as it usually knocks you out for long periods of time. The cold, strep and the flu almost look like a walk in the park next to a bad case of mono. Murmur the word "mono" anywhere on a college campus and watch everyone around you pale. Mononucleosis is caused by the Epstein Barr virus and is a member of the herpes family. This virus has been pinpointed to infect a certain type of white blood cells (12). Mono is transmitted through saliva, which is why it is often referred to as the "kissing disease" and is sometimes considered a sexually transmitted disease. Symptoms usually begin to show four to six weeks after contact with the virus and usually consist of fever, swollen glands, sore throat, and fatigue. Contrary to popular belief, most cases occur sporadically and outbreaks are rare (13). By the time most people reach adulthood, they have been exposed to mono at least once. Children often show little to no symptoms of the illness but the older the patient the harder the virus hits. This is why mono is most prevalent in high school and college students (13).

No matter what precautions you take to avoid them, illnesses run rampant once the weather turns. It is important to have good personal hygiene habits in order to lower one's risks of infection, wash hands after using the bathroom and avoiding activities involving the transfer of body fluids with someone who is ill. The four maladies described in this paper are just the tip of the iceberg of common college ailments.


1) How to treat a cold, from HealthWatch, NewsChannel9

2) Cold Break: Zinc?

3) Getting through cough and cold season, from Vlmy Park Pharmacy

4) The Head Cold, from Martin Avenue Pharmacy

5) *Broken Link* Merck Manual, Health links

6) Strep Throat Fact Sheet, from Maryland State Department of Health and Mental Hygeine

7) *Broken Link* Ask the Doctor

8) The Flu Epidemic (Started By My Dog, by Chris, a nine-year old, from KidPub

9) American Drug Stores, from Osco Drug

10) Influenza, with diagrams and updates, from Kimball's Biology Pages, a textbook support site.

11) Internet Health Guide, from University of Wisconsin

12) Infectious mononucleosis, from New York State Department of Health

13) Infectious monoucleosis, from Family Internet Health Clinic

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