Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Fall Illness & Hand Hygiene

By: Dr. Michael Deichen, MD

Fall is always an exciting time for students on College Campuses. New people, parties, football games and hopefully a great class selection. At Health Services we sense this excitement, but unfortunately also deal with some of the byproducts of the exuberance. Predictably, many students are subject to inadequate sleep, increased social stressors, high-risk drinking and other stressors. Combined with close social interactions, this environment is ripe for infectious illnesses. With some simple forethought many infectious illnesses can be averted. Illnesses are usually transmitted by airborne infectious droplet, person-to-person exchange of bodily fluids, or via contaminated inanimate objects.

When someone sneezes or coughs, the infectious droplets are usually dispersed within a three foot zone (arms-length). If you notice someone is obviously sick - coughing and sneezing - you should try to stay out of that “hot zone.” 15% of College Students each year contract Mononucleosis (Mono). The severity can range from mild to severe, and inevitably, each year some students end up withdrawing from school because of Mono. Mono can be spread by any of the modes of transmission but is classically blamed on exchange of salivary excretions from kissing. Your risk of Mono and most upper respiratory illness is diminished by staying out of the “hot zone” of an ill person and maintaining good hand hygiene. Remember what Mom used to say, “Wash your hands before you eat.”

Throughout the day our hands come into contact with many potentially infectious materials. Simply washing your hands before you eat, and avoiding touching your eyes, mouth or nose, will diminish your risk of illness. Preferably, you should wash your hands with warm, soapy water. Make sure to clean between your fingers and clean long enough to sing happy birthday twice. If you do not have easy access to a sink with water, consider using an alcohol based hand disinfectant. The UCF Pharmacy caries some nice, affordable hand disinfectant products. Health Services has stationed wall mounted hand sanitizers near most of the eateries around campus. Start using them!

The status of your immune response can also be a determinant for your likeliness of getting ill and the severity of such illness. You can maximize your immune status in a variety of ways. With regards to vaccine preventable illnesses, like the Flu, Meningitis and HPV, getting vaccinated will help protect you. You can maximize your immunity further by getting adequate sleep, avoiding excess alcohol, finding ways to control stress and by not smoking. Additionally, there is some evidence that consumption of Vitamin C on a regular basis may be helpful.

It’s pretty low-tech advice in an age of high-tech solutions, but if you follow this advice you will maximize your chance of staying healthy and enjoying your fall semester!

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