Student illnesses spike at beginning of semester


Chapman’s Student Health Services saw 945 students in September 2017.

It was Thursday of orientation week, and then-freshman Laura Belzner’s parents had left the day before. Her roommates were awake and starting to get ready for the day, but she couldn’t move. She had a 101-degree fever, but she was shivering. Every bone in her body hurt, and she wasn’t sure she could even climb out of bed. She didn’t know exactly what was wrong, but she knew she was very, very sick.

With flu season beginning, the weather getting colder and hundreds of new students cramming into five residence halls, the fall semester typically sees a spike in student illnesses, said Jacqueline Deats, Director of Student Health.

A total of 945 students visited the health center in September 2017 alone, she said.

“It’s like being in preschool again,” Deats said. “Students are living in close quarters, they’re sharing drinks, not sleeping as much as they probably should be and trying to figure out their schedule and how things work, so they’re high-risk.”

The most frequently reported illnesses at the health center are the common cold, bacterial infections, sinus infections, bronchitis and gastrointestinal (GI) diseases, Deats said.

There have also been “upticks” in certain illnesses throughout the year, such as strep throat, hand, foot and mouth disease and GI upsets, but most of the time there will be a few incidents and then it passes, Deats said.

Chapman had 12 cases of mumps and one case of bacterial meningitis, or meningitis B last semester.

Belzner, senior business administration major, said she ignored her flu symptoms at first because of “Orientation Week adrenaline.”

“I wish I would have gone to urgent care or something, but no, I just chose to suffer and see if it would pass, and it didn’t for three weeks.” she said. “The fever went away, but I felt horrible for the first three weeks of school.”

Senior dance major Sarah Boardman also came down with the “worst flu of (her) life” the day before orientation week.

“I’m talking a 102-degree fever, vomiting, vertigo, and the rest,” she said. “ I spent all of Orientation Week wrapped in a blanket on my grandparents’ couch watching Bob’s Burgers.”

Boardman had to miss most of her classes the first week of school in order to recover, she said.

“If I had to guess, I’d say it was a result of how nervous I was to start school,” she said. “I think it was my body’s way of saying ‘Nope, no thank you’ to the newness of it all.”

New students aren’t used to managing their own health, Deats said, but this increase in illnesses isn’t just among the incoming freshmen classes, it can also include returning students. Orientation Leaders and other students that are involved with incoming freshmen in some way are also affected, Deats said.

Hand washing, not sharing drinks, food or utensils and using disinfectants with bleach to kill viruses can help students stay healthy as they return to Chapman this semester, Deats said.

Proper nutrition, sufficient sleep, exercise, and hydration can also help students keep their immune systems strong even if they are exposed to viruses and bacteria, she said.

“(If) they are not feeling well, or they are not sleeping enough or if they’re not eating enough, there isn’t a parent there to guide them and get them back on track,” Deats said.