‘Vassar plague’ spreads on campus

Many students have come down with the “Vassar plague.” Baldwin officials say it is just a common cold, and that the amount of sick students this year is not anomalously high. Courtesy of Vassar College

With the picturesque autumn leaves turning red and yellow, fluttering onto Vassar’s quad, the annual change in the season brings cough drops and tissues alongside foliage and apple picking. In addition to the sound of intellectually stimulating conversations promised by Admissions ring the sounds of raspy voices and hacking coughs. It is not uncommon for viruses or illnesses to spread quickly across Vassar; sleep-deprived college kids living in close quarters is a recipe for germs to become epidemics.

Yet, according to Chloe Kellner ’22, it seems like this particular sickness going around has taken more victims than other colds she has seen at Vassar. “Everyone on my floor is either sick or getting sick,” she told me. “I had a sinus headache and a sore throat for three weeks,” she elaborated. Maria Ziaja ’22 echoed Kellner’s sentiments, describing her current state—fatigue with a persistent cough—as “certainly a popular condition” around campus. Sulekh Fernando-Peiris ’22 additionally noticed many students absent from classes and heard of professors canceling class due to being sick themselves. “I’ve definitely been feeling under the weather,” he added.

While it may seem to students and professors that the entire campus is sick, for Health Services at Baldwin House, it is business as usual. Nursing Coordinator Bridget Romani assured me that common colds often spread around this time of year, and that nothing that Health Services has treated would suggest that this year is worse than any other. She added that the number of sick students coming to Baldwin is standard. Surprisingly, Romani shared that there “hasn’t been one case of the flu” at Health Services this year.

If this isn’t the notorious flu, then what has been going around? The symptoms students are reporting—sore throats, runny noses, fatigue and occasionally fevers—are usually a form of the common cold, according to Romani. “In some cases, a common cold can lead to bronchitis, which may cause a fever,” she explained. Bleu Chambers ’22, whom Health Services diagnosed with bronchitis, described having a sore throat, cough and headache for four weeks. He says he feels better since going on the antibiotics Health Services prescribed him, but still has a constant cough.

One reason Baldwin Hall may not seem particularly alarmed by the current illness going around is that many students do not seek out Health Services when they experience symptoms of the common cold. Kellner, Ziaja and Fernando-Peiris all opted to rest in their dorm rooms instead of visiting Baldwin. Kellner didn’t see the point of visiting Health Services with a cold when “there is nothing they could give me that I couldn’t just get myself.”

When asked why she didn’t go to Baldwin, Ziaja concurred: “Whenever I’ve gone to Baldwin they always snake me and send me some wack bill that takes months to resolve. It’s always like ten phone calls and ten trips to financial services…it’s ridiculous.” Chambers described his experiences with Health Services as fine.

In most cases, it seems what is going around campus will resolve itself without a trip to Baldwin, even if this illness is annoying and persistent. Kellner said her key tip on avoiding and getting rid of colds is to put garlic cloves in her tea.

Romani’s advice to students? “Washing your hands is huge.” While washing hands after using the bathroom and before meals would hopefully be common sense, Romani cited the lack of hand washing as the biggest reason that illness spreads around campus. She emphasized that while students are doing their daily activities, they are frequently encountering high-contact surfaces, hosting thousands of different germs on them. In addition to preventing the common cold, she also mentioned that washing your hands is the biggest way to prevent the spread of another notorious college campus plague: gastroenteritis.

Romani also recommended that students rest and get enough sleep, which supports immune system health. This is something many college students struggle with. Between class, homework, extracurriculars and social life, securing a full eight hours of sleep is often what is sacrificed first. Yet, Romani emphasized that if you’re trying to stay healthy, sleep is one of the most crucial factors. While no method is foolproof, washing your hands and getting enough sleep will help you avoid feeling sick. Maybe incorporate some garlic cloves while you’re at it.

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