Did you get the flu shot? Do you get eight hours of sleep a night? Do you eat three meals a day? The student I asked had the same answer for every one: “Absolutely not.”
His responses aren’t atypical. According to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, 70% of college students believe it is important to get vaccinated for the flu, but less than half actually get the shot. My own informal survey showed that 60% of your fellow BC students are currently unprotected from this season’s strain of the flu, more than half don’t own a thermometer, and a staggering 90% average less than eight hours of sleep a night. Despite this, 70% of the students I surveyed reported that they would describe themselves as healthy.
This is a dangerous perception. Colleges all over the country are breeding grounds for infectious diseases, and college students are particularly good at spreading them. We tend to ignore factors that strengthen or at least maintain the immune system—like getting enough sleep or eating three meals a day—in favor or studying or going out. Stress doesn’t help either. With that high of a risk factor, I think the least a student can do is recognize his or her vulnerability and try to plan accordingly, but we always fall short.
The problem isn’t really that we’re getting sick—I think that’s to be expected—it’s that we’re getting other people sick. I firmly believe one of the most harmful things a college student can do when he or she is sick is go to class. It is, of course, a difficult choice to make; our classes are hard and missing one orgo lab or Portico lecture could be disastrous. Going to class with flu, however, has ramifications beyond just ourselves. What if your orgo lab partner has an immune system deficiency and could end up in the hospital if he got sick? What if your Portico professor has a baby under six months old, who’s too young to get any vaccinations?
This isn’t to say we should miss an exam every time we feel under the weather, but I think it’s fair to say you should stay in bed for one round of Monday classes and listen to the Panopto recordings if you catch something really nasty. It’s good not only for our classmates that might have otherwise gotten sick but also for us. Isn’t it better to miss one or two classes and bounce back than to sludge through a whole week trying to pay attention while your body is too exhausted to recover?
I think another huge factor in our sickliness is the general lack of awareness we have of our own health. A fever is one of the biggest indicators that you’re not just feeling bad, but that you're actually ill. It can be the difference between a cold and the flu or a stomach ache and a burst appendix. If most people don’t have access to a thermometer, then they don’t have access to this crucial knowledge and can’t make an informed decision about their health.
It isn’t always possible to stay healthy. A lot of times we just have to pull those all-nighters and skip those lunches to get by in our classes, but the absolute least we can do is take care of ourselves when we get sick. This way we minimize the spread as much as possible and contain it to ourselves. So for all those unlucky, unvaccinated souls who catch the flu this fall, rest up and recover…and please don’t sit next to me.