Most colleges and universities either require or strongly recommend students live in the dorms for at least their freshman year. From the social sense, it makes sense because you’ll be able to form close friendships from people that you live with and see every day. However, although it is often encouraged, many institutions are skimping on truly protecting their students from illnesses that can arise from poor living conditions. Such illnesses can also just from mere proximity to so many people at once.


What is it: A bacterial infection that results in swelling of membranes that cover the brain.

Symptoms: Fever, Headache, Stiff Neck, Vomiting, Nausea, Light Sensitivity, Confusion.

Prevention: Many students are already vaccinated against a few strands of meningitis but not all have taken the 2 step Meningitis B vaccine which is highly recommended  and sometimes even required by various colleges and universities.

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What is it?: Also known as the “kissing disease” it is a common college illness caused by the Epstein-Barr virus. If diagnosed ensure that you avoid sports and activity for at least a month after mono because the spleen is enlarged and is more prone to bursting easily.

Symptoms: sore throat, fever, exhaustion, muscle aches, headache, loss of appetite, swollen lymph nodes, skin rash, belly pain. People with mono can display a variety of combinations of these symptoms. They are very SIMILAR to symptoms of the common cold and flu so see a doctor if you have fever, sore throat and swollen glands or if you are unusually tired for no clear reason. It can last for WEEKS.

Prevention: Health experts are still unsure how long people who have had mono stay contagious. The virus can stay dormant in the body for the rest of your life and there is no cure for it. Be careful of who you choose to share utensils with or kiss.

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What is it? : Common viruses that cause cold-like  symptoms, sore throat, bronchitis, pneumonia, diarrhea and pink eye. It is especially of concern with those with respiratory issues or with weakened immune systems. Adenoviruses Type 3,4, and 7 are most closely associated with acute respiratory illness. Adenovirus type 7 is associated with severe illness and even death.

Symptoms: common cold-like, sore throat, bronchitis, pneumonia, diarrhea, pink eye, fever, bladder inflammation or infection, inflammation of stomach and intestines, neurologic disease. It is important to speak to your healthcare professional to determine type of adenoviral infection.

Prevention: Wash your hands and avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands. The virus can shed from people previously affected and allows asymptomatic people to be able to spread adenovirus to others. Viruses cannot be treated by antibiotics.

  • Important Note from CDC: It is NOT a nationally notifiable disease in the US meaning that clinicians are not required to test for or report cases to health departments or CDC. Many outbreaks of adenovirus likely go either undetected or unreported. *
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What is it?: Human Papillomavirus more commonly referred to be the acronym HPV is a sexual transmitted disease that can be transmitted even when someone is asymptomatic. In some cases genital warts or cancer can develop from HPV.

Symptoms: warts appearing in the genital region. Small bumps, clusters of bumps or stem-like protrusions.

Prevention: There is a vaccine available and women up to the age of 26,men up to the age of 21 or men ages 22 to 26 who have sex with men are able to take it. The virus can “re-emerge” after dormancy.  HPV CAN be transmitted during childbirth to an infant causing genital or respiratory system infections.

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What is it?: A mood disorder resulting in a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest.

Symptoms of a depressive episode:
*Feeling of sadness, emptiness, hopelessness
*Angry outbursts even over small matters
*Loss of interest or pleasure in most or all normal activities
*Sleep disturbances (sleep too much or too little)
*Tiredness and lack of energy, so even small tasks take extra effort
*Reduced appetite and weight loss OR increased cravings and weight gain.
*anxiety, agitation, restlessness
*slowed thinking, speaking, or body movements
*feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures or self-blame.
*trouble thinking, concentrating, making choices, remembering things
*frequent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts or suicide
*unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches.

Prevention: It isn’t possible to prevent mental illness but it is possible to treat. Seek help from a doctor or mental health professional and reach out to close friends, loved ones or trusted adults. Parents reach out to your students when they are away at college it might be hard for them (the students) to reach out first.

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What is it?: An illness that results in exposure from coughs, sneezing, talking or even touching the same surface as an infected person. There has been a recent resurgence of the disease on college campuses.

Symptoms: It starts with fever, headache, muscle aches, and loss of appetite. Then there is painful swelling of the salivary glands in the cheeks and sometimes inflammation of the testicles.

Prevention: Ensure you are up to date on the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine. The CDC, however, states that this is 88% effective so it is still possible to get even after vaccinated.

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What is it?: A type of staphylococcus aureus bacteria that is resistant to certain antibiotics (methicillin, amoxicillin, penicillin, oxacillin, cephalosporins). Though often occurring in hospital settings, MRSA has also occurred in settings un-associated with hospitals or healthcare facility this type is known as CA-MRSA. CA-MRSA occurs in populations that share close quarters or have more skin-to-skin contact. It is carried by 2 in 100 people though most aren’t infected.

Symptoms: Appears like a skin infection such as a boil or abscess. The area looks swollen, red, painful and filled with pus. (IT CAN LOOK LIKE A SPIDER BITE). Staph can infect the lungs and cause pneumonia. The more serious symptoms of MRSA occur because it can settle anywhere once it gets into your bloodstream:
Abscess in spleen, kidney and spine
Endocarditis (heart valve infections)
Osteomyelitis (bone infections)
Joint Infections
Breast Mastitis
Necrotizing Fasciitis- “flesh eating” bacterial infection.

Prevention: Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer or wash your hands. Keep cuts and scrapes clean and covered. Don’t share personal items like towels and razors. MRSA can live on the skin but it can be washed away. Pay extra attention to clean your groin, underarms, arms and legs as it can enter the body through hair follicles.

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What is it?: It is a viral infection that looks like a stomach flu. It spreads easily via contaminated food or water. Leafy greens, fresh fruit and shellfish are the most susceptible foods.

Symptoms: Infectious Diarrhea, Vomiting, Stomach Pain, Fever, Headache, Body Aches.

Prevention: Wash your hands consistently and try to stay away from the aforementioned susceptible foods.

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Recent news stories have shown many stories of young, bright students at their prime having to be buried within mere days. In several cases, the institution and everyone involved failed to appropriately address the issue and spread awareness of signs to look out for–signs that could be life saving. Make sure to seek help from a medical professional in the early stages of any illness- it is better to be safe than sorry.











Magda Wojtara is Junior at the LSA Honors College at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor on a pre-med track with a major in Neuroscience. In her free time, she write articles, volunteers at a chronic pain outpatient facility with UM Medicine, does research, competes in HOSA, and, of course, enjoys photography and singing. In her spare time she manages her own travel and lifestyle blog: @journeythedestiantion on instagram and

2 comments on “Sick in College: Life Saving Signs

  1. Joshua Tipton

    This is mildly terrifying when you think about campus health care.


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