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State students back in class, infirmaries

FLORENCE (AP) — As college students head back to campus this month, they will congregate in classrooms, dorm rooms and recreation halls. They will take away lifelong friends and an abundance of knowledge from their college experience. Until they graduate, most students will take away a multitude of germs from their college environment, often due to the close quarters they learn and live in.

Once fall sets in, ailments common to students include the usual cold and flu.

"Especially in the fall semester, you see allergy and sinus, flu and cold,'' said Cindy Wood, an RN and director of university health services at the University of North Alabama in Florence.

If catching the flu while spring blooms sounds absurd, think again.

Wood said the flu lingered on campus long after its typical winter stay this spring.

"The flu season was really, really long this year,'' she said. "We saw the flu through April.''

UNA students pay $2 per semester hour for access to mental and physical health care at UNA's, Bennett Infirmary, Wood said. Open weekdays and closed on the weekend, the clinic offers flu immunizations starting in November.

Some public universities in Alabama require mandatory vaccinations for incoming students against meningitis, mumps, Rubella and other diseases, but UNA requires tuberculosis vaccines only for international students.

"There are no immunization requirements for residential or nonresidential students,'' said Kim Walden, director of admissions at UNA.

Wood recommends that students living on campus get vaccinated for meningitis and updates for mumps, measles and rubella and tuberculosis shots prior to moving on campus.

In fall 2006, the American College Health Association's National College Health Assessment survey found that 85.4 percent of college students reported being vaccinated for measles, mumps and rubella, and 67.9 percent reported vaccinations for meningococcal disease (meningitis).

Only 29.2 percent reported getting flu shots.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, students living in dorms are more at risk for meningitis.

Until cooler weather sets in, students and especially student athletes, should take special caution while out in the August triple-digit heat and drink lots of water.

``Hydration is very important year-round,'' Wood said.

Staying healthy in a new location can prove challenging for new students living away from home for the first time.

One of the most important things they can do to stave off infection keeping up basic hygiene.

``The number one thing that I tell students, faculty and staff and everyone is hand washing, hand washing, hand washing,'' Wood said. ``Hand washing is the number one way to prevent the spread of infection.''

Wood advises students to keep their hands away from their faces and to use hand sanitizer. Resisting the temptation of eating after roommates and friends and washing linens at least every two to three weeks can help keep dorm germs at bay.

One of the biggest mishaps freshmen make is not scheduling in enough time for rest in between enjoying newfound freedom and studying, which can result in stress, Wood said.

To combat stress, eating a good diet and getting enough rest boasts the immune system.

``When you're stressed your immune system is lowered by stress,'' Wood said. ``College is stressful. There's no way around that.''

Some aches can't be treated externally. The stress of being in a new town, with new friends to make and the high-pressure role of college student to fulfill can put students at risk for burnout and homesickness.

Lynne Martin, a licensed professional counselor at Bennett Infirmary, said students can feel at home on campus by taking part in student activities.

``Probably the best thing is getting involved on campus,'' she said.

Apart from providing a distraction from homesickness, joining campus activities gives students an on site support system instead of having to rely solely on friends and family from home. The sooner students get involved, the better.

``You can't just wait (homesickness) out,'' Martin said. ``You have to be involved while you wait it out.''

Exercising at campus facilities serves double duty as a way to meet other students and relieve stress.

``Probably the biggest thing in stress management is maintaining an exercise program,'' Martin said.

Though the primary goal of attending college for most is graduating, the road to a diploma should consist of some play too, Martin said.

``I talk to so many students who don't have hobbies or can't maintain them at school. They need that.''


Information from: TimesDaily,

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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