Alicia Wang Graphics Editor

September 2, 2019

A Healthy Start to the School Year – How to Avoid Getting Sick When Back on Campus

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“I moved in on the 23rd. This morning I woke up feeling awful; dry cough, runny nose, abdominal pain, and a light fever that went away by the afternoon,” new student Marcos Acosta ’23 told The Sun.

Acosta’s experience is sadly common. According to Cornell’s director of medical services Dr. Anne Jones, DO, MPH, common illnesses at the beginning of the year include coughs, colds, infections and allergies.

“When you’re living and learning in close proximity to others, it’s common for your body get exposed to and to react differently to infections, allergens, and stressors,” Jones explained. “Things like alcohol use and limited sleep can also affect you differently when you are in a new environment.”

However, there are resources all over campus to help students get a healthy start to the year.

Sleep deprivation amongst Cornell students may contribute to students getting sick when moving in, because sleep strengthens the immune system. One of these students was Erin Hudson ‘22, who became sick within her first few weeks of school last year. She was sleeping between 4 and 6 hours per night.

“I was busy and stressed. I was in the Navy ROTC Unit and the cross country team,” Hudson said.

Stress, a scourge on many college campuses, also keeps Cornell students up at night and weakens their immune system.

In a presentation on Monday, August 26, to students at Hans Bethe House on West Campus, Cornell public health fellow Amber Pasha described stress as an “invisible backpack” that students carry and recommended using self care strategies such as meditation and exercise to lighten the load. Many students, like Matthew Canabarro ’22, agree that exercising helps them stay healthy and use Cornell resources to do so.

“I’ve taken a few spin classes, some HIIT classes and used the different gyms,” Canabarro said.

Free fitness resources available to students include free late night gym access on Fridays and Saturdays, swimming, tennis, volleyball, and some free gym classes.

However, these preventative strategies are not fool-proof and despite concerted efforts to reduce stress and maximize sleep, individuals can still fall victim to illness.

Dean of Students Vijay Pendakur recommended that Cornellians listen to their bodies. “If you get sick in the first few weeks of school, get plenty of fluids, sleep as much as you can, and if necessary, get professional help,” he said.

Cornell Health has a range of self care guides both in their pharmacy and online for conditions including sore throats, coughs, diarrhea and constipation, which help students to manage their symptoms without seeing a care provider. The pamphlets generally recommend sleep, fluids, avoiding alcohol and caffeine, and over the counter medications such as acetaminophen.

Many students use the Cornell Health pharmacy and other local stores to buy over-the-counter medications to manage their symptoms.

“I had very bad congestion for a month. I went to Cornell Health for some decongestant, it helped some. Mainly, I waited for it to get better,” said Temple Anyasi ‘22.

If symptoms are particularly severe, people need medical attention when Cornell Health is closed, some students, including Amanda Hartman ‘21, have used the Cornell Health hotline at 607-255-5155.

“I was vomiting for hours and hours and hours. I called the 24 hour nurse, and she told me to go to the hospital. [The hotline] was very helpful,” Hartman said.

Additional resources include the Cayuga Medical Center, Urgent Care in Ithaca and Wellnow Urgent Care. In a mental health emergency, the Ithaca Crisisline, National Crisisline Suicide Prevention Chat Service, and other crisis lines can help. In any emergency, including health emergencies, call 911 or the Cornell Police at 607-255-1111.