OPINION: Strict attendance policies, deadlines negatively affect students’ health

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Washing your hands with soap and warm water is one of the easiest tasks in order to prevent germs from spreading. (Archive photo by Cassandra Nguyen | Collegian Media Group)

Have you gotten your flu shot yet? If you haven’t, it’s not too late. Influenza can be a devastating and potentially deadly illness.

And being sick, especially with something as nasty as the flu, is not a luxury many students can afford.

As a society, we’ve reached a point where it’s normal to treat illness with a cavalier sense of invincibility. With the amazing medical advances we’ve seen in the past century, life expectancy is at a point that we can put off worrying about our own mortality for a while.

Just a hundred years after the Spanish flu epidemic killed tens of millions of people globally, and with smallpox effectively eradicated since 1980, we feel comfortably removed from the threat of pandemics.

However, with the rise of the anti-vaccination movement, overprescription and misuse of antibiotics and the ongoing struggle many have accessing affordable healthcare, it is a recipe for an epidemic.

Last year was the deadliest flu season in more than four decades, killing more than 80,000 Americans. The fact of the matter is that viral and bacterial infections continue to pose a real threat to health globally.

Compounding that, the looming threat of antibiotic resistance is steadily becoming a reality. We need to take illness more seriously, especially students.

In a fast-paced, competitive college setting, it is all too easy to let one’s health fall by the wayside. Nearly everyone is under constant stress and pressure to meet deadlines, and many students have scholarships on the line and thousands of dollars at stake.

It’s no wonder many students will freely admit going to class when they know they are contagious, because the possibility of getting behind could cost them a grade. This only expedites the spread of infectious diseases, especially respiratory pathogens.

If you didn’t know already, the Office of Student Life exists to help students who experience debilitating illnesses or injuries that affect academic performance.

However, the prevalence of respiratory illness and the pressure to function regardless is so overwhelming that many sick students might not think they merit intervention. In these cases, your grade is usually at the mercy of the professor and their attendance policy.

A big issue with this is that even mildly sick students who can still function with an infection can easily pass it on to someone with a weaker immune system, for whom such an illness may be devastating.

Stressed and often sleep-deprived, students are frequently unable to get the rest necessary for their immune system to fight off an infection. At that point, antibiotics are often the only option to turn to.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about one in three antibiotic prescriptions are unnecessarily prescribed for viral infections, further contributing to antibiotic resistance.

What will students (and everyone else) do when bacteria eventually develops resistance to all modern antibiotics? Maybe researchers will have developed a new way to fight harmful bacteria by then, maybe not.

We can only hope that medical advancement can keep up with the pace of our modern lifestyle coupled with the threat of antibiotic resistance.

I know that students can’t stay home for every throat tickle. There’s not an easy solution to this complex issue. Moreover, student health is an amalgam comprised of other factors such as a healthy diet and exercise, which are also difficult to prioritize as a student.

However, it is well established that chronic stress has a detrimental effect on health, no matter who you are. And I think that most students would agree that undue academic pressure increases stress levels greatly. For these reasons, professors need to consider the long-term effects of their short-term assignments.

Rebecca Vrbas is a Collegian staff writer and a junior in mass communications. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com.

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