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Queens Chronicle

Off To College? Tips On How You Can Avoid Calling 911

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Posted: Thursday, January 8, 2004 12:00 am

Let’s face it. We are probably the unhealthiest generation yet. We’re less active because of our love of TV and video games, not to mention the non-athletic nature of chatting online. Add to that fast-food dining—just about the most convenient thing because of price and availability, especially when we only have a half-hour in between school and work, right?

Of course, there’s also midnight cram sessions, chem’ lab with lots of toxic chemicals, peers dangling cigarettes under your nose, kegs and kegs of beer, and no ‘rents around to watch you. Hey, wait a minute. You’re more than just the average teen with unhealthy habits—you’re a college student with a disease waiting to happen. That’s why we’ve got the 411 on how to keep your roommate from calling 911.

Not many people understand what vaccines, also known as immunizations, actually do. Doctors give you a small amount of an infection so that the next time you are exposed to it, your immune system will work faster. It’s kind of like playing Final Fantasy VII: You have to build up your strength by first fighting little enemies so that when the big opponents come along, you’re strong enough to tackle ‘em. And when you see a monster you had trouble with earlier in the game, you’ll remember how to fight them.

The Centers for Disease Control—those CDC folks in Atlanta, Georgia—is currently trying to make the meningitis vaccine more readily available for college students. Why? Because the risk for contracting the disease, especially in a dorm, is increasing. Of course, the one for meningitis is not the only vaccine you’ll need. Before you start college, check your medical records and find out which booster shots you’re due for. Also, be aware that some shots are yearly, like the flu shot, which change annually because of the virus’ various strains. Too often, we think we are invincible because we’re young. But we can just as easily get skin cancer, chemical burns, and massive concussions. Here’s a list of how you can protect yourself:

• Wear sunscreen. You’ll really enjoy studying on the lawn at campus, and your tan will be great, too, but beware that too much sun can kill. It’s not worth it to get skin cancer or bad sunburn that will annoy you for days. This goes double for athletes!

• In labs (even non-science majors end up in one), wear gloves and a protective lab coat. Also, avoid wearing open-toed shoes, shorts, and baggy clothing. Many kids roll their eyes at the safety lecture in the beginning of a course, but when they get burned by highly corrosive sulfuric acid, they realize the importance of lab safety.

• Wear a helmet when riding your bike around campus. Your hairstyle may not be as cool afterward, but it’s better than a big gash in your temple! That goes for other protective gear, such as knee pads, shin guards, and life vests. Sporting goods shops sell stuff like that for a reason, not just to decorate their shelves.

I’m not telling you to go out and get a tattoo or tongue ring, but if you do, make sure the artist is licensed. He or she must use a new needle for each customer, and work only with piercing instruments fresh out of the package. This sounds like an obvious thing, but a recent study in England found that 95 percent of general physicians in Bury and Rochdale had visits from patients complaining of piercing complications. Of that, 40 percent involved navel rings. Possible problems that can occur are a build-up of scar tissue, excessive bleeding, hepatitis C, HIV, and septicemia—all of which can be fatal.

It’s a simple phrase, but it holds true for more than illegal drugs. For example:

• Cigarettes. One cigarette will dull the cilia lining in your nasal cavity for up to 10 hours. So, when germs could normally be pushed out by cilia through a sneeze, the process will not occur as frequently, thus making smokers more susceptible to colds and flu.

ýue Plunkett, director of Allegheny College’s Health Center, Meadville, PA, also agrees that students who light up are the ones most treated for minor infections. “Our health center treats quite a bit of tonsilitis, influenza, and bronchitis, especially among students who smoke,” Plunkett said.

• Creatine. Creatine is produced naturally by the liver, and obtained through eating red meat and poultry. It increases the production and availability of energy in the body. When you take creatine supplements, however, easily obtained from nutrition stores, you’re putting your liver and kidneys at risk, as well as increasing the chance of injury.

What many creatine-abusing athletes don’t realize is that the supplements cause muscles to bulk-up in a short period of time, and this muscle tissue is very sensitive. One risk of this is dehydration, since creatine holds water in the muscles, depleting water supply throughout the body. In effect, electrolytes, which help regulate your heart beat, are also thrown out of balance.

Like everything else, creatine is not the only risk you can purchase at your local health food store. Although many supplements are natural, some contain the same chemical compounds as synthetic medicine. Beware.

As Plunkett puts it, “Students’ habits can help them stay healthy.” So, even if it’s as simple as washing your hands or getting enough sleep, don’t take it lightly because, after all, if you don’t feel well, you won’t grade well.

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