Your college years should be the best years of your life, but contracting a serious illness or infection can really curtail your enjoyment of the college experience and interfere with your studies as well. The problem is that while dorm living definitely has its advantages, the close living quarters can sometimes become a petri dish of unpleasant – and sometimes dangerous – germs and contaminants. Take a look at some of the most common and problematic health hazards found in college dorms, and find out how you can keep yourself safe and healthy in your dorm.
Meningitis may very well be the boogeyman of college dorms. The statistics on the bacterial disease are certainly scary enough – the CDC reports that between ten and twelve percent of cases are fatal, even with proper medical treatment. Even survivors can face long-term consequences – up to twenty percent of those who survive the illness are left with lasting problems like hearing loss or damage to the brain or kidneys. The people most vulnerable are young people between the ages of fifteen and twenty, with first-year college students living in dorms facing a particularly high risk of contracting the disease.
What can you do to keep yourself safe? The most important thing you can do is get immunized, if you aren't already. The meningitis vaccine isn't foolproof, but it can greatly reduce your risk. It can protect you against four of the five most virulent strains of meningitis. Doctors recommend that children first be vaccinated for meningitis at eleven or twelve years old and that they receive a booster shot at age sixteen. If you haven't been immunized, or if you missed your booster, see your doctor, visit your school's health clinic, or take a trip to the nearest health department to find out how to get the immunization.
In comparison with meningitis, a bad case of athlete's foot may seem laughably minor. But it's a real problem in college dorms, and it's no laughing matter. The communal showers are the culprit when it comes to spreading foot fungus. The combination of the moist environment and frequent use leads to the development of slimy patches called biofilms that are basically colonies of various microorganisms shed by your fellow dorm dwellers. You can't wash or rinse them away – it takes scrubbing with a scrub brush to get rid of them.
Since you have to shower, you risk exposure every day. Don't make the mistake of thinking that the problem will stay confined to your feet – a fungal infection on your feet can spread to your hands when you put on your shoes and socks and then to other parts of your body that you touch with your hands. Plus, athlete's foot isn't the only infection you might pick up – it's also possible to contract MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), a potentially deadly antibiotic-resistant infection, from the biofilms in your communal shower.
What can you do to protect yourself? Wear flip-flops in the shower. It's really that simple. If you live in a dorm and use a communal shower, a pair of flip-flops is an absolute necessity for your health and safety. Pick yourself up a designer pair or a pair branded with your college logo, such as those found at http://www.lillybee.com. In fact, you may want to have two pairs on hand, just in case you need a backup. Flip-flops are inexpensive and accessible, so there's no excuse not to protect yourself from the hazards in your shower.
Mononucleosis, otherwise known as mono or "the kissing disease," is a illness you've probably heard of. Like meningitis, this disease is most common among teens and young adults. While it's not as dangerous or deadly as meningitis, it can definitely ruin your semester. Mono has no cure, and it can take weeks to recover from. Also, because one of the major symptoms of the disease is extreme fatigue, those weeks involve a lot of bed rest – not exactly optimal for attending classes and studying. What's more, doctors often recommend refraining from sports or rough physical activity while fighting off mono – the disease can cause your spleen to enlarge, and playing football or cheerleading, for example, could lead to a ruptured spleen.
The good news is that mono isn't as contagious as it's made out to be – while it's definitely a communicable illness, it's more difficult to catch than the common cold. Mono can mimic the symptoms of a cold or another illness at first, so avoid mouth-to-mouth contact with anyone who's showing symptoms of illness. You never know what it might be. You can also protect yourself by refraining from sharing personal items, like cups or spoons, and by washing your hands multiple times throughout the day.
Years from now, you'll want to look back on your dorm days fondly, not remember being seriously ill. Take smart steps to protect yourself so that you can enjoy your college experience in good health.