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11/04/2014 09:18 am ET Updated Nov 04, 2014

5 Common Illnesses College Students Should Know About

ASSOCIATED PRESS

While you really shouldn't be worrying about catching Ebola on your college campus, there is a higher probability you'll get a certain sexually transmitted infection if you don't get vaccinated.

In case you zoned out when your mom bugged you about staying healthy when you went off to college, or you totally didn't pay attention during orientation about some of the things you'd be at risk for on campus, we've rounded up some common illnesses you may encounter.

Here's a quick guide to five common illnesses college students should be especially aware of:

Go Get Vaccinated For Meningitis


Meningitis occurs when membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord become swollen, which can lead to headache, fever and neck stiffness, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Most cases are due to infection from a virus, but infection via the meningococcal bacteria is the most dangerous: It can lead to hearing loss, brain damage or even the loss of a limb, ABC News reported. Freshmen seem to be at a higher risk for meningitis, possibly because of the close contact typical of dorm life, NPR reported.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that preteens first get vaccinated around age 11 or 12, with a booster shot at age 16. Freshmen who received the vaccine before their 16th birthday should get a booster before going to college. And students who have never before been vaccinated can get the shot for the first time: The vaccine is recommended for anyone ages 19 to 24 and is even required by some colleges.

Athlete's Foot, OR Why You Need To Bring Flip Flops For The Dorm Shower

There’s a reason why “shower shoes” are a dorm room must. Athlete’s foot, or tinea pedis, is the name for an itchy fungal infection that’s caused by the same fungus responsible for jock itch — and yes, that fungus can live in dark, damp environments like the dorm room shower. Athlete’s foot usually occurs when your sweaty feet are confined in tight shoes, and it leads to a rash that typically starts between the toes (though there can also be ulcers or blisters).

So what’s the best way to prevent an infection with athlete’s foot? Air out your feet and avoid keeping your feet enclosed in sweaty socks and shoes. And wear shower shoes or sandals when you use communal showers, public pools and the like. It’s also a good idea to avoid sharing shoes with others. And if you’ve already been plagued by athlete’s foot, go to see your doctor, who may direct you to an over-the-counter product you can use to combat it. Severe infections may require treatment with antifungal pills.

Get A Simple Shot To Prevent The Flu, It's Easy To Spread On Campus

The seasonal flu spreads from one person to another by coughing, sneezing, or just talking. According to the CDC, a person with the flu can spread it to another person up to six feet away from them. In a college lecture hall, that six-foot radius includes a lot of classmates. People also spread it before symptoms develop -- i.e., before they realize they should stay home. College students are physically around each other in classrooms, dining halls, libraries, dorms, and parties, allowing for viruses to spread quickly and widely.

Although college-age people aren't the most at-risk group for serious flu complications, they can still easily get the illness. And it's not just a bad cold, it can seriously decrease a person's productivity and actions for up to two weeks. In the course of a semester, being slowed down like that -- or missing all those parties -- has a major effect.

The good news? You can protect yourself with an easy, and often on-campus, flu shot.

Keep Your Strep Throat Away From Lecture Class

There is no vaccine for strep throat, yet. Strep is a bacterial throat infection that anyone can get, usually through person-to-person contact through saliva, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. It mostly results in severe pain when swallowing, but sometimes includes a fever, nausea or body aches. You can treat it with warm liquids, hot tea with honey, gargling, sucking on throat lozenges and taking over-the-counter medications, not to mention antibiotics from your doctor. It can also spread through coughing or sneezing so that's why this is one sickness where if you get it, you should skip class. Seriously, just stay home and watch some Netflix while you drink away your strep with some tea.

There's A Good Chance You'll Get HPV, Unless You Get Vaccinated

Human papillomavirus (HPV) predominantly gets transmitted between sexually-active people under the age of 24. According to the CDC, it's most commonly transmitted during vaginal or anal sex, and can be passed "even when an infected person has no signs or symptoms." Most of the time it goes away without much issue, but sometimes can cause genital warts or even cancer. (However, the type of HPV that causes genital warts is not the same as the kind that causes cancer.) Up to four in five adults will have HPV at some point.

The good news though is there is a vaccine available, and the Harvard Global Health Review notes that "research on the HPV vaccine has proven that no serious side-effects could be attributed to the vaccine." Women up to the age of 26 can get the vaccine, same with men up to the age of 21 or men ages 22 to 26 who have sex with men.

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