What’s the Deal With the Perpetual Penn State Plague?

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For the past month or so every classroom I have been in has had a consistent orchestra of coughing and sniffling. It seems as though everyone has come across the infamous Penn State plague already. I have been sick since the end of August and am beginning to wonder why I have not gotten better (even with antibiotics). There is only so much Emergen-c, DayQuil, and cough drops someone can take. So my question is why am I, and everyone else that has fallen victim to the Penn State plague, not getting better?

One of the things I considered when thinking about why I am not getting better is the fact that my sleep cycle is not only terribly off, but I am not getting my recommended amount of sleep every night. In an article I found on Discover, it goes to say that the connection between sleep and getting sick is based on correlation and not causation. Which in the writer, Carl Engelking’s words, states is “the ultimate aim of scientific inquiry.” There was actually a study performed by Aric Prather who is a sleep researcher of The University of California San Francisco. In the study Prather aimed to see whether sleep predicted an individual having a bad cold. The study consisted of 164 men and women who were all healthy. For 7 consecutive days, they had to write in a sleep diary but also were connected to a wrist actigraphy, which is used to record movements to estimate sleep patterns. After the 7 days the participants were given nasal drops that contained rhinovirus. The participants were watched for 5 days to see if a cold developed. The conclusion of the study was stated in the study abstract, “Shorter sleep duration, measured behaviorally using actigraphy prior to viral exposure, was associated with increased susceptibility to the common cold.”  That being said, an individuals body is at an increased risk of illness when sleep is being compromised. The study explicitly stated that possible confounding variables were obtained in the sleep journals and evaluated, as well as season, BMI, antibody levels and psychological variables. That being said, confounding variables did not impact the study. The study that was performed was an experimental study and was appropriate to answer the question. Although the participant size was rather small, it is difficult to do an experimental study such as this with a large number of people.

It also came to mind that germs are rather easily spread in college campuses. Obviously hygiene takes a large role in becoming sick, due to the fact that thousands of people touch the same surfaces every day. Many people touch the same bathroom sink handle, doors, elevator buttons, gym equipment and obviously many more surfaces. Also I have found that people always share food and drinks regardless of if someone is sick or not. These are all surefire ways to get sick, or continue to be sick for that matter. In a study performed by Reckitt Benckiser, the makers of Lysol and released by Simmons College Center for Hygiene and Health in Home and Community, it stated various alarming statistics regarding germs in college. One of the alarming is, that “Communal shower floors were the most contaminated surface in the dorm, harboring more than 40 times the number of bacteria found on the toilet seat. Forty three percent (43%) of shower floors were contaminated with bacteria that can indicate fecal contamination and twenty percent (20%) hid streptococci.” Another alarming statistic was that “dorm room refrigerator door handles harbored twice as many bacteria as shared dorm toilet handles. Thirty seven percent (37%) encountered bacteria that can indicate fecal contamination and thirteen percent (13%) encountered staph.” The study went on to examine participating college students cleaning habits. The students that were surveyed stated that “seventy three percent (73%) admitted they had never cleaned their dorm room door handle”, and “only sixty three percent (63%) of students polled had cleaned their dorm room in the past week.” As a college students these statistics don’t seem too ridiculous, especially the one regarding cleaning a room, considering it’s hard to find time to clean.

This study that is funded by Lysol, is similar to the one Andrew mentioned in the first few weeks of the semester, that was about hand dryers and paper towels. The study although seemingly promising isn’t necessarily trustworthy due to the fact that it doesn’t state how many college students were polled, and not only that but it is promoted by the makers of Lysol who may be shamelessly promoting their product.  By using these statistics it seems as though there is a vast need to clean and get rid of germs, although that isn’t false, Lysol may be using this study as a ploy to get people to buy their antibacterial products. Despite the possibility that Lysol may be attempting to influence purchases, it isn’t necessarily doing harm by encouraging people, specifically college students to clean their dorm rooms and sanitize things.

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I’m sure there are other reasons by the Penn State plague is perpetual other than germs and lack of sleep, but as of right now those two factors seem like the most common causes. It’s hard to pinpoint one single reason for being sick. Although it is hard to avoid being sick altogether due to the fast spread of germs and close quarters many people live in, there are some measures that can be taken.  In regards to the information I found out, sleep is very important not just for well-being but to reduce the propensity of getting sick, and hand hygiene is key.

One thought on “What’s the Deal With the Perpetual Penn State Plague?

  1. Devon Amber Macdougall

    I can totally relate to this post, especially because our Science200 class in Forum is a literal never-ending chorus of coughing, sneezing, and sniffling. It was interesting how you went into the few causes of the “Penn State Plague” such as lack of sleep and sanitization, however I think that in order to put a stop to this plague for good, students should be required to get a flu immunization.

    I found an interesting graph that shows the prime time of flu season- December to January. Isn’t it a little bit scary that flu season isn’t even remotely close to us yet and our school is already crawling with sickness? The graph also shows that the prime time to receive a flu shot is October-November… so if the University wants to prevent the “Plague” from getting even worse they should start enforcing flu shots really soon!

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