common college ailments and illnesses

Posted : December 4, 2005
Last Updated : February 13, 2019

common college ailments and illnesses

College campuses are breeding grounds for bacteria and viruses. The combination of stress, lack of sleep, and poor eating habits can cause college students to be more vulnerable to these infectious agents. Get familiar with some of the most common ailments and illnesses spread on college campuses, so you can know how to treat them.

Upper Respiratory Infection

An upper respiratory infection is usually referred to as the common cold. This is typically the most widespread illness on campuses. Symptoms can include runny nose, cough, sore throat, congestion, watery eyes, sneezing, fatigue, fever, and mild body aches. Since a cold is a viral infection, antibiotics will not cure it. The cold just has to run its course, which can sometimes be up to 14 days. However, there are tasks you can do in order to treat the symptoms of a cold. These include drinking plenty of fluids, resting as much as possible, gargling with warm salt water to help throat irritation, and taking over-the-counter medicines, such as a nasal decongestant and ibuprofen.


Influenza, commonly called the flu, can spread rapidly once one person on campus has acquired it. Flu symptoms can include body aches, chills, dry cough, fever (usually 102-104F), headache, sore throat, and stuffy nose. Like the common cold, the flu is a viral infection, so antibiotics will not be helpful in recovering from it. To help relieve symptoms, you should rest as much as you can, drink plenty of fluids, and take ibuprofen to ease discomfort. If you have a high risk condition and you get flu symptoms, your doctor may prescribe an antiviral drug. Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect against the flu.

If you show signs of having the flu, you should stay at home or in your dorm room until 24 hours after your fever has subsided to avoid further spread of the virus. If you show signs of any of the following symptoms, seek medical attention:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough

For more information about the flu, please visit


Mononucleosis, or mono, is one of the worst illnesses that spreads on college campuses because it lasts for a longer period of time. Mono is often referred to as the "kissing disease" because it can be spread through the oral secretions of an infected individual. It is more commonly spread via coughing, sneezing, and sharing drinking glasses. Symptoms include fatigue, weakness, sore throat, fever, swollen lymph nodes in the neck, swollen tonsils, headache, skin rashes, loss of appetite, and abdominal pain. Like the common cold and the flu, mono is caused by a virus, meaning that antibiotics will not work to treat it. Therefore, you should get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids while your body recovers. Most symptoms will ease within a few weeks, but it may take a couple of months before you feel completely normal.


Gastroenteritis is commonly known as the stomach flu. Symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and low fever. The stomach flu is generally caused by a viral infection. To ease your stomach pain, try drinking small amounts of clear liquids and eating bland foods, such as crackers or pretzels. Be sure to avoid dairy products, which are harder to digest. Over-the-counter medications may help relieve symptoms.


Conjunctivitis is usually referred to as pink eye. Symptoms can include eye irritation, redness in the white part of the eye, discharge from the eyes, swollen eyelids, and light sensitivity. The leading cause of pink eye is from a viral infection, but it can also be caused by a bacterial infection, an allergic response, or irritation from environmental factors. Pink eye caused by a viral infection must run its course, but artificial tears can help the discomfort. To treat pink eye caused by a bacterial infection, you should visit your doctor to get antibiotic eye drops. Pink eye caused by an allergic response or environmental irritation should resolve on its own with avoidance of the irritant.


Meningitis is most often caused by a bacterial or viral infection. It also may be caused by a fungal infection, a reaction to certain medications or medical treatments, an inflammatory disease such as lupus, some types of cancer, or a traumatic injury to the head or spine. Symptoms often resemble those of the flu and may include high fever, severe headache, stiff neck, rash, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and confusion. If you notice these symptoms, you should seek immediate treatment. If not treated early, meningitis can lead to death or permanent disabilities. College freshmen, especially those who live in dormitories, are at a slightly increased risk for bacterial meningitis. The American College Health Association (ACHA) recommends all first-year students living in residence halls receive the meningococcal vaccine and that other college students under 25 years of age should choose to receive meningococcal vaccination to reduce their risk for the disease.

These are just a few of the common illnesses spread on college campuses. In order to lower your risk of infection, you should wash your hands frequently, avoid sharing drinking glasses or eating utensils, and avoid close contact with an individual who is ill. If you acquire an illness and your symptoms persist or become severe, you should visit the medical clinic on your campus or your family doctor.

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