Battling the "Blacksburg Plague"

Originally published by the Collegiate Times as Lifestyles.
Published in print edition, Friday, Sept. 18, 2015. 

The advent of fall and sweater weather brings with it coughs, sneezes and congestion, spreading rapidly across the Virginia Tech campus. It’s enough to garner the nickname “the Blacksburg Plague,” in reference to an ambiguous sickness that often goes undiagnosed.

Se Jin Lee, a junior neuroscience major and member of the Virginia Tech Rescue Squad, became ill after the Ohio State football game on Sept. 7. “I probably got sick from someone at the Ohio State game since I was working with rescue, and I was interacting with a lot of sick people,” Lee said. “I wore gloves and washed my hands between each call, but I think just being in a stadium full of more than 66,000 people had enough germs to make anyone and everyone sick.”

Students who are past the point of prevention might consider measures to contain the spread of germs, including washing hands, not sharing food and drink and getting enough rest.

“One of the biggest things a student can do is to get enough sleep,” said Laurie Fritsch, MS CHES and assistant director of health education at Schiffert Health Center. “A lack of sleep directly compromises health, and you have a harder time fighting off germs and simple viruses.”

Fritsch also references the impact of smoking on health, as it compromises the respiratory system and exists as another opportunity to share germs.

“A lot of times, people will go downtown and share drink and share water bottles,” Fritsch said. “They don’t think twice when they say, ‘Oh, you can have a sip.’”

Flu season typically begins in November, but can start spreading earlier in October. Flu vaccines are available for $23 and flu mists are available for $40 through Schiffert Health Center at McComas Hall, as well as in all local pharmacies. This year’s flu clinic will be from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 7, in McComas Hall Gym.

“I would recommend students to get a flu vaccine,” Fritsch said. “Researchers work very hard to figure out what strains are for this year, and sure, they’re not right every year, but it’s very easy to get a vaccine.”

Students who are unsure of their condition but may be suffering from a runny nose, sore throat, congestion or more can visit the cold care clinic inside of McComas Hall to learn more about their symptoms.

Schiffert Health Center can provide four different symptom-relief medications, including cough suppressant, cough drops, nasal decongestant and pain relief. These resources are already included in tuition charges for full-time students. If symptoms persist, Fritsch recommends students see a doctor or provider at Schiffert.

“I don’t remember how it feels to be not sick, to be honest,” Lee said. “But the day my cough disappears and my throat and nostrils are mucus-free, I will be the happiest person in the world. Being sick makes me really appreciate health in general.”

For those who are already sick or still of good health, frequent hand washing, opening bathroom doors with a paper towel, keeping food and drink separate and avoiding direct contact with potentially contagious students are safe and clean practices that can help keep your body healthy.

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