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Respiratory viruses have emerged at ASU as fall begins

The ASU community is going through its annual wave of sickness. How does illness spread, and what can you do to avoid it?


"Illnesses can be transmitted through close-knit living arrangements, small classrooms, and social interactions."

It hits Sun Devils every fall. One by one and friend group by friend group, the coughs and sneezes spread across campus as students begin to mingle and settle into the semester. 

The season may bring reprieve from the scorching summer months, but it also brings a wave of sickness to the student population who spend an inordinate amount of time in close quarters. 

This means that aside from getting sick with COVID-19, students face a myriad of other illnesses. 

Mario Islas, the medical director for ASU Health Services, said the most common illnesses for students to watch out for during this season are the flu, strep throat, sinus infections, seasonal allergies, and, the most widespread of them all, the common cold.

The Maricopa County Department of Public Health reported that the second week of September surpassed the average number of flu-like illnesses seen in Maricopa County hospitals that same week from 2017 to 2022. 

"Most of these respiratory viruses are transmitted from droplets from coughs and sneezes," Islas said. "You can also get it from direct contact with touching surfaces and touching your own nose, mouth, or even your eyes."

To protect yourself and those in your surroundings, there are many measures students can take to stay safe. 

Islas suggests maintaining a consistent sleep schedule and nutritious diet. In certain circumstances, he recommends practicing social distancing when in contact with someone unwell and isolating yourself when you're feeling sick.

Up until May 2023, the University posted a weekly COVID-19 update and maintained a record of COVID-19 tests and cases in the University community. According to a University spokesperson, ASU no longer tracks this data but has offered free Moderna COVID-19 vaccines – the first, second and first booster shots. 

According to a fall 2022 national health assessment of college students conducted by the American College Health Association, approximately 40.6% of college students who had received a diagnosis of cold, flu or another respiratory virus within the last 12 months of the study reported that it had a negative impact on their academic performance.

According to Alexandra Bhatti, an honors faculty associate at the College of Health Solutions, there are many factors that contribute to a heightened susceptibility to infectious illnesses on college campuses.

"I think it's a bit more about the kind of conditions that you are in when you have large gatherings of individuals in close proximity," Bhatti said. "Even in the dorms, for example, you have people who are sharing living quarters like bathrooms, kitchen areas and common spaces, which slowly increases the probability that you might be exposed to an illness."

These essential aspects of campus life create an environment that is a risk to students avoiding the spread of various infections. 

Chloe Kraemer, the director of Health and Wellness for the Undergraduate Student Government and a sophomore studying finance, said that there are "so many people from so many different areas coming together, and we don't all have the same immunity to every illness."

"Any place where there's a high volume of students is definitely somewhere that students should be wary about contracting illnesses," she said. 

The CDC advises following six key steps to ensure safety: staying away from others when sick, maintaining physical distance, practicing proper respiratory hygiene, regular handwashing, disinfecting frequently touched surfaces and staying informed about health guidelines. 

 Islas also suggests staying safe by getting vaccinated for both the flu and COVID-19.

ASU students and faculty can schedule an appointment with University health services through their My Health Portal account for vaccines and wellness appointments.

Edited by Grey Gartin, Jasmine Kabiri and Angelina Steel.

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