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Wondering if you should head to the Health Center for a cold? Here's what officials say.



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The IU Health Center is located at 10th Street and Jordan Avenue. The center offers services for medical, psychological and other concerns.  Emily Eckelbarger Buy Photos

When students get sick on campus for the first time, they run to the Health Center. But center officials say it may not always be necessary.

“Not everybody who has a cold needs to come in,” said Dr. Beth Rupp, the medical director at the Health Center. “But we are here to help people, so if people want to come in and see us, we’re happy to do that.”

According to data aggregated by the Health Center from its medical and women’s health clinics, the center had 32,950 student visits last year. 

While students may think the obvious thing to do when they get a cold is go to the Health Center and get an antibiotic, Rupp said there is relatively little the center staff can do against viral illnesses, like upper respiratory infections, besides recommending over the counter medicines to help treat the symptoms.

She said students should come to the Health Center if the symptoms last longer than seven to ten days or if they have a high fever.

“Most of the URIs or upper respiratory infections we see tend to be viral in nature,” Rupp said.
“We can’t stop viruses. Once you have a virus, you’ve got it. The body has to fight it off.”

The center treated 2,354 URI cases this past year. The other most common reasons for visiting were painful urination, routine screening for sexually transmitted infections, immunization and sore throat.

“When you have kids living or working or studying in close proximity with each other, there is a lot of sharing of germs,” said Peter Grogg, executive director of the Health Center. 

He said that while the weather is good right now, colder weather forces everyone indoors, where germs are more frequently passed.

Grogg said the Health Center uses special codes to classify how a person was diagnosed and treated for billing purposes. Using these codes, the center determined that almost 33,000 student visits – including repeat visitors – occurred between July 1, 2017 and June 30, 2018. Grogg said this number was actually down from the last few years, when visits averaged between 37,000 and 38,000. 

The way students scheduled visits has also changed. 

“Historically, over half of our patients were walk-in patients and the other half were scheduled appointments,” Rupp said.

Rupp said students can now sign up for same-day appointments, which has streamlined the visit process. 

While exclusive visits for illnesses like colds and allergies make up a large percentage of the visits, the center also treats chronic conditions like diabetes and asthma, Grogg said.

Rupp said students should do obvious things to avoid visiting the Health Center.

Students should focus on getting enough sleep, eating healthy and drinking enough water, she said. Basic hygiene practices such as hand washing can reduce the spread of illness, especially when people live in close quarters like dorms. 

Another way of preventing illness is to get a flu shot every year. Rupp said the Health Center will begin administering flu shots later in September for a low cost. 

If a student is already sick, that does not mean he or she should not take steps to reduce the number of people they could infect. Rupp said while it is difficult for students to miss class, they should be careful not to pass germs onto others. 

Rupp said students who are unsure of how to treat themselves can speak with a nurse for free over the phone about their symptoms.

The nurse can help determine if a student needs to come in and, if not, how he or she can treat themselves. The center’s pharmacy carries over-the-counter medications for students to purchase and pharmacy staff can advise students what to take. 

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