Oswego campus health center sees increase in sickness among students during the fall semester

OSWEGO N.Y. — Students and staff at the SUNY Oswego health center are both fighting against a beginning semester sickness, termed the “Oswego Plague.”

Angie Brown, director of health services, said she believes more students are sick now compared to this time last year and are coming into Mary Walker Health Center for treatment.

“We maybe had a little bit of a higher volume than last year…but it’s going to get busier as flu season starts,” Brown said. “Foot traffic is always busier in the fall. I just think there’s so much more illness, everyone’s coming together.”

Brown said that as seasons change and allergies change, so does the number of visits to the health center.

“The spring, it might start off [high] and then as the weather starts getting nice and people kind of start clearing out towards the spring semester. Not that it slows down, but not the kind of surge that we usually see in the winter or in the fall,” she said.

Angela Stoutenger, assistant director of health services, said she has seen a lot of respiratory sicknesses with students at Mary Walker.

“There’s a lot of upper respiratory infections, whether they are viral or others, some strep and some COVID, but if you’re a person who struggles with allergies, then a changing of the seasons can really cause you harm,” she said.

Max Leifert, junior criminal justice major, is one of those students who are experiencing those upper respiratory problems.

“I was fully congested, a lot of sinus pressure. I was coughing nonstop, I didn’t really want to get out of bed,” he said.

Sick students that visited Mary Walker have presented a varied of different symptoms which make it hard to treat a specific illness, Brown said.

“This is what’s the hardest thing about COVID, everything right? I’ve seen things from a runny nose, nasal congestion, fatigue, muscle aches…nausea, vomiting,” Brown said. “The symptoms vary all the time and it’s been like that through the pandemic.”

Stoutenger said she sees symptoms that go beyond the possibility of a COVID infection.

“Some tonsillitis, which is the inflammation of tonsils, and whether that’s strep induced or viral infection induced. And then there’s GI issues, there’s been some nausea, vomiting and diarrhea and whether that’s been something that’s related to stress induced, or an illness,” Stoutenger said.

“If it is strep, they do have a pharmacy here that they are able to use to dispense medications to the students and if they don’t have a certain medication that they want to prescribe, then students can use the local pharmacies like Kinney’s or Walmart,” Stoutenger said.

The spread of the “Oswego Plague” is from students coming back to school and being in tight classrooms, Leifert said.

“I think it’s from people coming from all around the state and the combination of the diversity of people is attributing to it. People have different immune systems and react differently to different things,” Leifert said.

Professors are also aware of the increase in sick students and are being lenient, Leifert said.

“My professor in class today made a comment about how everyone was coughing, so I do think since we’ve all been back people have been getting sick,” he said. “My professors gave me a few days off from class and they’ve all been very understanding, so I do think professors are noticing this wave of sickness.”

Stoutenger said students coming back to campus are taking less care of themselves, leading to them developing an illness.

“Students are trying to get acclimated back into classes, and I think as far as self-care, things that we can easily do to boost our immune system so that we are not out to get sick tend to go to the side when we are focused on schoolwork,” Stoutenger said.

There are easy things students are putting aside when they are getting to school, negatively affecting their immune system, she said.

“For viral infections antibiotics won’t work, so it goes back to those modalities of plenty of rest, plenty of hydration with water, eating nutritious foods,” Stoutenger said.

She wants students to understand that self-care is the easiest and best way to keep themselves happy and healthy, any time of year.

“I think that self-care is really important for your overall mental and physical health as well, especially as college students and then when you graduate and go into the workforce,” Stoutenger said.

The “Oswego Plague” is a culmination of sicknesses from being worn out, the flu, COVID and stomach bugs. Mary Walker Health Center partnered with Wegmans and will be administering flu shots to any student or SUNY Oswego faculty on Oct. 16 and Oct. 24 in Swetman Gym.