By Brett Youtsey
People at Willamette always complain about getting sick, but many do very little to prevent it. Much like kindergarten, college is a breeding ground for germs. Instead of drooling and sucking thumbs, we have discovered much more thorough ways of exposing others to our fluids.
Willamette is a gathering for young people across the nation and world; being a global intersection adds an entirely new dimension to the spread of disease. A challenge with living in an interconnected world is that we are also interconnected with its illnesses. The university is composed of hundreds of students living high risk lifestyles and frequently traveling. The environment perfect for infectious disease.
College combines independence with a lack of supervision. Whether caused by poor diet, poor hygiene or lack of sleep, a student’s transition to living independently frequently translates to poor health and a compromised immune system. This transition period reoccurs every year at Willamette with a fresh batch of illnesses each season
Not only are students more at risk of being unhealthy, but they are also more likely to share germs. College is one of the few informal environments where young adults live full-time. Students are much more likely to have physical interaction than any kind of professional adult, or even high schooler. Whatever concern for germs college students may have is drowned in alcohol on a saturday night.
While getting sick every other month may seem like a hassle, the student body is playing with forces that health professionals are only beginning to understand. Population growth, urbanization and climate change are a few modern developments that have heightened the risk of infectious disease.
A complicating factor for health is the growing number of bacteria resistant to antibiotics. In a 2016 NBC report a woman in Pennsylvania was discovered to be infected with bacteria resistant to nearly all known antibiotics. Epidemiologists a r e worried that bacteria will share their drug resistance genes, making antibiotics obsolete and infection effectively incurable.
Modern medicine is witnessing a tsunami we have no idea how to escape. While panicking doesn’t help, it also isn’t a good idea to run to the beach. Right now, Willamette is running to the beach.
Methods of treating diseases may be improving, but epidemics are becoming more commonplace and spread with greater ease. An article in Journal of the Royal Society Interface “Global Rise in Human Infectious Disease Outbreaks” shows an increase in the frequency and diversity of outbreaks since 1980.
The evolving resistance of pathogens and increase in diversity is an equation for pandemic, a threat we should not take lightly. Disease is a greater cause of death than any conflict on a TV screen, with the most severe example being the epidemic of Spanish Flu in 1918. In two years, between 50 to 100 million people died according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), putting the death toll on par with WWII.
The question should not be if a pandemic like the Spanish Flu will occur, but when. Ex member of the Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense, George Poste, said to Business Insider that “it is inevitable that a pandemic strain of equal virulence will emerge.”
As we enter the hundredth anniversary of the deadliest pandemic in human history, we must recognize our responsibility to ourselves and our neighbors to stay healthy.
You may be strong enough to beat the flu, but there are always people around with compromised immune systems. Simply eating healthy, getting sleep and being mindful of germs can make a significant impact to making campus a safer place for all.