Q&A: Doctor answers all of our questions about first semester sickness

Dr. Robert T. Woodward, medical director of McKinley Health Center, answers questions regarding sickness during the fall semester and preventable measures to stay healthy.

Photo courtesy of Chris Brown Photography/McKinley Health Center

Dr. Robert T. Woodward, medical director of McKinley Health Center, answers questions regarding sickness during the fall semester and preventable measures to stay healthy.

By Heather Robinson, Editor-in-Chief

In a few days, students will have arrived on campus from all over the world — and their germs will have traveled with them too. 

Last fall, students fell victim to a sickness universities across the country dubbed the “frat flu.” But what actually was the illness, and what should students expect during this season? 

We spoke with Dr. Robert T. Woodward, medical director of McKinley Health Center, to learn more about the sicknesses that spread among students, and how to prevent them this fall. 

When everyone comes back to campus, it seems that everyone starts to get sick. What kinds of sicknesses are these usually going around? 

“The most common is the Common Cold. Similar symptoms can be seen for those people that don’t live around central Illinois all year but get exposed to soybeans, corn and other plants around here. They may have allergy symptoms. Then you also have illness from being close to other students like strep throat and Mono.”

What was up with the so-called “frat flu” last year? What actually was that? 

“Most medical professionals think it was an unnamed virus, possibly adenovirus, that is not routinely tested for but can resemble influenza, mono or even COVID-19.”

What are the main ways these sicknesses spread among students on campus? 

“These illnesses are airborne usually, so they can spread by coughing or sneezing. Sometimes they spread by water droplets when people share drinks, ChapStick or kisses.”

Are there any sicknesses you are more worried about this year? 

“I am more concerned with new variants of COVID-19 than anything else this fall. Hopefully they all continue to provide mild disease.”

Would you still recommend students wear masks in class and around campus? 

“COVID-19 is highly contagious these days, but produces mild disease. However, you still will need to isolate for five days and wear a mask all the time for the next five days. So if you don’t want to miss class and activities, I would recommend wearing a mask, keeping your distance from others when you can, and washing or sanitizing your hands on a regular basis. 

“Students that have underlying health conditions, are not fully vaccinated and boosted or anyone concerned about their general health should consider wearing a mask when they are indoors in crowded spaces. It is important to wear a high quality well fitted mask to provide the full protection.”

Alright, we have about a week left until most students are back on campus, and often in communal living. What should they know to be able to stay safe and avoid getting sick? 

“I would be sure not to share food or drink with others, and keep your hands clean with quality hand washing and sanitizer. Wearing a mask when in close quarters may also help.”

New students coming to campus may not be familiar with University health resources. What should students do if they feel they’re coming down with something? 

“They can look on the McKinley website (https://www.mckinley.illinois.edu/) for answers to their questions or speak to our 24 hour a day Dial-a-Nurse at 217-333-2700.”

 

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