Campus News

Bethel College has a campus-wide case of the sniffles

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It’s a brisk Monday morning. Hundreds are seated in chapel. There’s something distinct in the air. A cough here, a sniffle there. Even the occasional earth-shaking sneeze can be heard like a chain reaction, all within a matter of mere seconds. There’s no disguising it. It’s cold and flu season. This scene is becoming quite common right now at Bethel College, as many have surely noticed that immune systems across campus are taking a serious hit, primarily through colds and the occasional flu bug. Stephanie Gonzalez, director of health services at Bethel’s Wellness Center, confirmed that the majority of reported illnesses on campus this year are result of an upper respiratory virus that’s being passed along. “Some of the symptoms of students being affected right now are usually things like a dry cough, sore throat, congestion, runny noses, sneezing and even a low-grade temperature around 100 degrees,” said Gonzalez. However, Gonzalez also specified that some students have contracted something closer to actual influenza. The difference between a common upper respiratory virus and a more significant illness like influenza is that a patient’s fever tends to be significantly higher with influenza. While sick with influenza, a patient could run a fever of 101.5 degrees or higher. In addition, body aches and fatigue are more pronounced. Gonzalez warns that this type of illness can wipe a student out for an entire week. With an upper respiratory virus, a patient can usually take some over-the-counter drugs and let it run its course. But with influenza, it’s nearly impossible to be able to get up, go to class and function properly. “So far, there has only been one student, that I know of, that has come to the Wellness Center and has later found out that they had a confirmed case of influenza,” said Gonzalez. “There may be more on campus, but I don’t have a way of testing for that here.” There is a specific test kit that most doctors use to test for the presence of influenza in the body, which involves a swab strip being placed up the patient’s nose. But Gonzalez said that these tests are very expensive and outside of the Wellness Center’s budget. Gonzalez also said that she would be interested in finding out the number of students who have gotten tested for influenza at a minute-clinic or family doctor in order to have a more realistic vision of the illnesses present on campus. “My concern is to keep in touch with those who have an upper respiratory virus and stop it from becoming something more significant,” said Gonzalez. “I know of one student who had a pretty serious viral infection and it turned out developing into something worse, requiring further medical treatment, so I just want students to become informed.” Without the ability for the Wellness Center to afford these influenza tests or the ability for Gonzalez to prescribe medication, many may scratch their heads at the ability of the Wellness Center to fully assist students and provide proper treatment during this poor immune-system season. “I personally think that there is some work that needs to be done here at Bethel,” said Gonzalez. “I’m a nurse practitioner, which means I’m able to write prescriptions for students if they need them, but I can’t prescribe medications here at Bethel. Budget is the main reason why the Wellness Center cannot provide nurse practitioner care via prescription medications. According to Gonzalez, Bethel would be interested in allowing the Wellness Center to have a nurse practitioner, but this lies outside of the current budget plans for health services. Essentially, allowing Gonzalez and the Wellness Center to write students’ prescriptions would require two things. First, Gonzalez would need to have a physician in the community that would partner with her and review the Wellness Center’s operations. And secondly, Bethel would have to figure in the added expenses of employing her as a full-time nurse practitioner and provide malpractice insurance for the facility. Throughout the 2015-2016 school year, the Wellness Center received a total of 421 student visitations to discuss student ailments. So far, the 2016-2017 school year has only provided the Wellness Center with a mere 171 visitations. Because there are fewer and fewer students taking advantage of the Wellness Center, the facility has received a reduction in treatment options that it can provide students. “When the college sees that there are lower numbers of people coming in to see the nurse, then there is less of a concern or need for having a nurse practitioner,” said Gonzalez. “I think students would follow up with me more if they knew that I could prescribe medications. It’s really difficult for me to know what’s going on with those I’ve seen if there’s not a lot of follow-ups.” Gonzalez firmly believes in the importance of following up on students’ illness visits. One way that she has begun doing this is through the use of her personal cell phone. Gonzalez has begun using Google Voice, an online telephony service, as a way of staying in touch with students. This software allows her to use her personal cell-phone as a way of communicating better with students via text messages. “It’s hard to know how things are going with students unless I get that follow-up information,” said Gonzalez. “If I was able to prescribe medications, telling kids, ‘if you see these flu symptoms, then come see me,’ then I’m certain that more would use the Wellness Center and take advantage of these services.” This technological move comes as a response to many students’ complaints over never checking their email accounts. But now Gonzalez uses the device to follow-up with students within the first 7-10 days after visiting her office in the Wellness Center. “So many times students appreciate the fact that someone just followed up with them and let them know someone cares,” said Gonzalez. As Bethel resides within a state that seemingly cycles through all four seasons in a matter of a typical week, you may think that frequent weather changes may be to blame for many students’ immune deficiencies; however, Gonzalez said that this might just be a myth. “There’s not really a lot of scientific proof to suggest the weather is directly to blame,” said Gonzalez. “But being in this field for a while, I’ve seen how the temperature shifts cause me to see more sick people. Some people are definitely more sensitive to huge shifts in temperature and pressure.” Gonzalez explained that her role against the spread of influenza with the Wellness Center involves providing information to the students if they have questions regarding their health. “I do a lot of education,” said Gonzalez. “I assess them, and if they don’t know what to do, then I try and educate them so that their symptoms don’t escalate into something worse. I give them all of this information, and basically tell them what to watch for. “ As for further measures to be taken against this nagging cold/flu season, Gonzalez promoted caution in people exerting themselves too much and taking unnecessary risks of spreading further illnesses. “I alerted the Bethel administration of the presence (of) confirmed influenza on campus,” said Gonzalez. “But as for taking action, (drinking) fluids and (getting) rest can help speed up the recovery process. If you are in a fever, then you should be cautious in attending gatherings of people, such as class, since you are at the peak of your illness and could spread it to others.”
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