Health Center offers remedies to sick students

An interesting dialogue between two first-year women took place at the Snack Bar last Thursday night. One, decked out in party attire, sighed “I’m just craving the bottle” after finishing the last bite of her dinner. The other pointed to an accumulating pile of dirty tissues in front of her and said, “Look at this, it’s disgusting,”

After listening to the conversation, one might believe that both could end up at the Health Center by the end of the evening. Although an isolated incident, this interaction is representative of a larger trend this fall: within only two weeks of school, a number of first-years have already needed to visit the Health Center.

Dale Newman, Nurse Practitioner at the Health Center, claims that this is nothing out of the ordinary. She explained that it’s quite common for students of all ages to come in with an array of complaints every fall, upon returning to campus. She said that there has been no significant statistical increase in the number of students arriving at the Health Center this semester than in years past.

But Newman did comment on the surprising number of first-years suffering from strep throat. Within the first two weeks of school, 12 students tested positive for strep, ten of whom were freshmen. Newman felt that 10 cases out of a 500-person class was a significantly high figure. All 10 first-years diagnosed with Strep live in either Morgan Hall or Lehman Hall.

But diseases like strep are not the sole contributors to Health Center visits. Already, a number of intoxicated first-years have been taken in due to alcohol poisoning. But Newman notes that this is not new. She could not comment on the details or severity of the cases that she’s seen thus far, but did say that in general, “freshmen tend to show up every year with excessive intoxication.”

Dave Boyer, associate director of Security, deals with drinking incidents all over campus. He said that there are always a variety of problems at the opening of the school year. In addition, he said that in the past few weeks, several medical transports to North Adams Regional Hospital have already been required.

Both Newman and Boyer have advice to help keep healthy. Security will soon be talking to all the first-year entries about the “realities, rules and regulations” of drinking. Party guidelines are being rewritten with student help in hopes of ameliorating the drinking problem. Boyer also urges greater contact between students and security.

In urging freshmen to avoid illness, Newman laughed and said, “I love to tell students to try not to swap spit with anyone they’re not intimate with.” Strep throat in particular is spread through oral secretions, as are many other viruses and bacteria. Newman urged students to avoid sharing toothbrushes, glasses and bottles with one another. Also, students should take extra care to wash their hands. Newman explained that people often sneeze and then touch doorknobs and other objects, which can easily spread disease in enclosed spaces such as dorms.

Of course, Newman’s advice needs to be taken seriously not only by freshmen, but the rest of the student body since a number of students all over campus are already complaining of ailments associated with the harsher winter months, such as influenza, a sore throat or mononucleosis.

But Newman explained that upper respiratory problems are very common during the fall season in New England. She said there are always several cases of mononucleosis at the College, especially considering the close quarters in which students live. The number of cases she’s observed thus far, however, is nothing out of the ordinary and certainly no cause for concern.

Although Newman continually stressed that sickness surges at the start of the school year, she did point out that students often exaggerate the severity of their ailments. For example, students suffering from symptoms such as muscle ache or fever are likely to label the problem as the flu. In reality, influenza season does not begin until late fall and the Health Center does not even offer flu shots until October. For now, Newman said, students should understand that they have probably contracted a simple viral illness, a problem not nearly as serious as the flu.

Of course, even though disease may be commonplace and less severe during the fall, it is always a good idea to visit the Health Center when suffering from any medical problems.

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