SUMMER VACATION IS ALMOST OVER, and colleges across the country will soon be returning for fall classes. While going back to school is a great, joyous time for many, it is also a time of elevated risk for health problems. College students face a mounting assault from thousands of potential bacterial infection and health problems. In fact, many health problems can quickly reach epidemic levels in the close communities set up on the nation’s campuses.
However, parents, health care professionals, educators and students may not fully realize the real health risks that exist college students live. Unfortunately, cultures that have normalized risky behaviors further increase this risk.
So, health professionals who take the time to understand the epidemiology and risk to these communities will better understand how to identify, manage, treat, and prevent health problems from becoming health crises as the nation gears up for back-to-school shopping and life changes.
Why Are People in Close Communities, Like Going Back-to-School College Students, More Susceptible to Health Issues
The top causes of health problems among close communities and students goes back to close communities’ definition. If a close community is defined by living or spending copious time in close quarters or enclosed areas, it is reasonable to see how a disease or illness may spread quickly among college students. An illness in a dormitory could make its way to other students through ventilation systems, or a bloodborne pathogen could spread from one bathroom to others. In some dormitories, food preparation areas may be within walking distance of restrooms and student rooms. But, there are other factors that increase risk for health problems too.
College Students May Engage in Risky Behaviors
Risky behaviors may include other factors that increase risk, such as unsafe sexual behaviors and practices, like not wearing contraceptives and condoms, or engaging in impulsive behaviors.
Close Living Arrangements Result in Shared Belongings and Use of Resources
Close living arrangements means students will naturally have some shared belongings. Simple items, like tiles, brushes, and even books, can become harbingers of doom to college students trying to sell.
Students May Make Stress-Inducing, Poor Decisions
College students may make poor decisions. But, poor decisions are not just about engaging in risky activities. Poor decisions may include all choices that increase stress. For example, procrastinating on homework base seem like a minor issue, but it increases stress levels within the body. This may also lead to greater risk for depression-fulfilling loop of mental health problems. As the amount of stress increases, the ability of the immune system to fend off viruses and other pathogens decreases.
Alcohol and Substance Abuse Cause Mental Health to Deteriorate
College students may be engaging in alcohol or substance abuse at disproportionate rates of the public. Thus, health care professionals should always ask if college students have engaged in any alcohol or substance abuse activities during interactions to isolate potential causes of mental health or physical health problems. Moreover, the use of substances may directly contribute to greater risk of illness relating to close living arrangements and other risky behaviors, such as unprotected sexual activity. In addition, study drugs, like stimulants or Adderall, are increasing in popularity among college students. In fact, 61 percent of college students have been offered and accepted stimulants to help with studies, reports the Huffington Post.
Students May Have Less Income Devoted to Health Care
College students also face another challenge when it comes to health care. Access to health care and paying for it are not necessarily priorities for college students; getting their education is. Except for college students who can stay on their parents’ policies, many college students may not have health insurance. As a result, college students experiencing health problems may avoid seeing a doctor, which could result in the worsening of symptoms and the progression of a disease to epidemic proportions.
Common Health Problems Among College Students and Close Communities
It is difficult to isolate a list of specific health problems that occur among college students and close communities without looking at diseases that are spread from direct contact. However, close communities are especially susceptible to diseases that are transmitted through the air and through direct contact. This goes back to maintaining precautions for bloodborne pathogens. Bodily fluids and other blood containing fluids can impose a transmission risk to college students. Meanwhile, bacterial infections that can spread through the air are also common.
There is a more sinister side to infections that can spread among college students. In areas where students may be exposed to the bodily fluids or pathogens shadowed by other students, like gyms and shower facilities, the risk of contracting a superinfection, such as MRSA or staph, increases. As explained by Maya Rhodan of Time Magazine, the history behind the spread of these multidrug resistant organisms (MDROs) is well-documented. The joking manner and interaction between college students can increase the risk of exposure as well.
For example, students involved in contact sports, like wrestling or football, may encounter the infection and pathogens on another student’s clothing, belongings, or body. This is the point of transmission, and the disease spreads.
Meningitis is an illness common among college students that is starting to retreat. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than two-thirds of all meningococcal cases between people ages 18 to 23 occurred among college campuses. While the resounding number of infections and outbreaks has decreased significantly since 1994, it still represents a high health risk. The CDC currently recommends all college students get the meningitis vaccine, if they have not previously gotten it.
Depending on the state, getting the meningitis vaccine may be a requirement for enrolling at a public institution. Of course, there are exceptions for students seeking exemptions for religious or other beliefs. In addition to meningitis, measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) are making a comeback among close communities and colleges. Thus, college students should update their vaccinations before ever stepping foot on campus
Injuries Are Prevalent Too
Any discussion on the potential health problems among college students is incomplete without touching on injuries. College students, especially athletes, are more susceptible to personal injuries than their peers. In addition, the risky behaviors and mind-altering substances on more college campuses make risk for injury a real threat to college students.
Students should know how to obtain immediate care for injuries or accidents occurring while on campus, including a what health care services and emergency medical services are available be on traditional 9-1-1 services. In addition, students engaging in contact sports or otherwise physical activities that resulted injury should be seen as soon as possible after sustaining an injury. This will help prevent injuries from worsening into infections and contributing to the spread of pathogens on college campuses.
Top Considerations in Caring for Close Communities
Health care professionals caring for college students face many challenges, but the most prominent challenges reflect the growth and development of students. As a result, it is important for health care professionals to take these three top considerations when giving care and interacting with college students:
- Sense of Self and Personal Development. College students are just beginning to develop their sense of self, independence and personal development. Therefore, health care professionals should seek to maintain a professional relationship with college students, regardless of any potential advancements or queries by student.
- Early Identification of Health Issues. Students may also be withdrawn from willing disclosure of potential health problems, so health care professionals need to take extra steps to encourage college students and individuals seeking care to fully disclose all relevant information, including signs and symptoms, to make accurate diagnoses and identify potential issues early.
- Mental Health Issues and Symptoms. Like the unwillingness to declare disclose certain health problems, college students may also be susceptible to higher levels of stress and emotional or mental health problems than their peers and other individuals outside of the college. In a sense, health care professionals providing services to college students must take on additional roles of counselors or therapists and intercessors where appropriate.
Training and Education Are Essential to Successful Care During the Back-to-School Rush
The key to keeping college students safe from health outbreaks goes back to training and education, health care professionals in college communities should fully educate students on the health risks and protections afforded by vaccines and safe lifestyle choices and activities. While professionals may be unable to prevent unsafe sexual practices or poor decision-making processes, providing additional information to college students will put the thought of prevention and students’ minds. This will serve as a reminder to think twice before sharing belongings or engaging in otherwise unhealthy behaviors, like eating without washing one’s hands first.
The key to keeping college students safe from health outbreaks goes back to training and education..
Health care professionals can also help to reduce risk by providing information through community outreach programs and training programs to parents, educators, and community members. Of course, health care professionals can only provide this training when they have kept up with their own professional credentials, including training on Bloodborne Pathogens and CPR or Basic Life Support certifications.
In fact, the back-to-school rush is the perfect time to recertify individuals working in your organization for responding to adults and teenagers in cardiac arrest or other distress. College students represent one of the most diverse groups of individuals on the planet, and they are our future. It is everyone’s responsibility to help them make it through college without becoming another health care statistic.
The importance of preventative health care, including family planning, managing coping skills and mental health, vaccinations, and annual health check-ups, is essential to keeping college students healthy. Rather than leaving it to chance, your organization can help your community’s college students and co-eds stay healthy this semester through education, outreach, and training. Of course, fall is now truly around the corner, so the next post will focus on what you need to do to get ready for the upcoming influenza season.