Think those sniffles and sore throat going around your dorm are no big deal? Think again. Many common illnesses that students get when they move away to college can actually develop into something much more dangerous. If you suspect you have one of the following illnesses, see a doctor, even if you think it’s nothing. You want college to be the beginning of your life, not the end.
Though not as common as some of the other diseases on this list, meningitis is a serious health threat to college students. About 1,500 people in the U.S. contract meningococcal meningitis each year. College students are at an especially high risk because they are in such close quarters in dorms, cafeterias, small apartments, and at parties. The disease is spread by direct contact, including respiratory droplets. About 11% of infected people die from the illness, and those that survive sometimes have to live with brain damage, kidney disease, hearing loss, and amputations.
Symptoms: Nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light, confusion.
Though most common in women, eating disorders can affect college students of both genders. Besides having added academic and social pressures, college students are fully in charge of their eating habits for the first time in their lives. For some students, this freedom can lead to eating disorders, such as anorexia or bulimia. Eating disorders go hand in hand with different degrees of mental illness, and they can kill. One in 10 anorexics dies from starvation, often from cardiac arrest, or from suicide.
Anorexia: Fear of gaining weight, distorted body image, amenorrhea, refusal to maintain normal body weight.
Bulimia: Binge eating, use of laxatives, fasting, or excessive exercise, self-image based largely on weight.
One in four college kids will get the flu this year, and for many, it won’t mean more than a couple weeks of misery. Of course, this misery in itself shouldn’t be overlooked; we’re talking body aches, fever, headache, chills, etc. Sometimes, though, the flu allows bacterial pneumonia to take hold in the lungs, which can turn deadly, even in college students who were healthy before getting the flu. Most colleges (and concerned parents!) encourage students to get the flu vaccine to avoid this risk altogether.
Symptoms: Fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headaches, chills, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.
Mononucleosis, the kissing disease, is common in college students for obvious reasons. It’s most often transmitted through saliva, but can also be spread through blood and, ahem, genital secretions. For most college students, mono is just dangerous for your grades and social life, as it makes you incredibly exhausted and can last months, but for some people, it can be life-threatening. In some cases, mono causes enlargement of the spleen, which can rupture and kill you if you don’t get immediate medical attention. You could also experience liver or airway complications.
Symptoms: Fever, sore throat, swollen glands, fatigue.
Any number of sexually transmitted diseases could appear on this list, but chlamydia is the most frequently reported STD in the U.S. More commonly found in women than in men, this bacterial infection is easily treated by antibiotics, but because the symptoms can be subtle or even undetectable, many cases go untreated. This is how it can become dangerous. In women, the bacteria can infect the cervix and fallopian tubes and cause pelvic inflammatory disease, which can result in infertility or dangerous ectopic pregnancies.
Symptoms: Discharge from sex organs, burning during urination.
Student athletes are particularly at risk for staph infections, since Staphylococcus bacteria thrives in locker rooms. But it isn’t a stranger to dorm rooms or community bathrooms. There are many different types of Staph infections, and most aren’t too serious, but a few can be deadly. Toxic Shock Syndrome, Methicillin-resistant Staph, and internal infections can come on quickly, require hospitalization, and end in fatality.
Symptoms: Skin infections, fever, chills, low blood pressure, shortness of breath.