Top Health Issues for College-Bound Kids

By: Lisa Goldberg Keithley, M.D.

You have a college-bound teen? Congratulations!

While you’re selecting classes and picking out towels, be sure to also pay attention to your teen’s health. Due to large classrooms and tight living quarters, college students are at risk for some potentially serious infections, including meningitis, mononucleosis, mumps and the flu. Here’s what you need to know to keep your college student safe.


Meningitis is an inflammation of the protective membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord that’s usually caused by a bacterial or viral infection. Symptoms include fever, headache, stiff neck, vomiting, nausea, sensitivity to light, and confusion. In some cases, it can be deadly.

Fortunately, meningitis isn’t very common, and there’s an effective vaccine to prevent it.  Many colleges recommend that students get vaccinated to prevent outbreaks.

What to tell your student: If they have symptoms of meningitis, they should put on a face mask, if possible, and get to the nearest emergency room. Meningitis is very contagious, so going to the student health center is not a good option.


Caused by the Epstein-Barr virus, mononucleosis is often called the “kissing disease” because can be transmitted through saliva. Besides kissing, mono can be passed by coughing, sneezing or sharing a glass or eating utensils.

Symptoms include a sore throat, fatigue, low-grade fever, stomach pain, and swollen tonsils. Mono can also cause serious complications such as enlargement of the spleen and liver inflammation.

What to tell your student: If they are experiencing symptoms of mononucleosis, they should get checked out at the student health center. Unfortunately, people with mono can be laid up for weeks, which is bad news for a college student.


Mumps is a viral infection that affects the salivary glands located near your ears. Symptoms include fever, headache, muscle aches, tiredness, and loss of appetite – also swelling of the salivary glands, which causes puffy cheeks and a tender, swollen jaw.

Mumps is highly contagious, but cases have been greatly reduced thanks to the childhood MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine. However, even if your child was vaccinated, there is still a small chance they can get mumps.

What to tell your student: If they think they may have the mumps, they should visit the student health center. And if mumps is spreading at their college, they may need to get another dose of the MMR vaccine as a booster.

The flu

The influenza virus usually occurs in the fall and winter, and can be quickly spread by coughing and sneezing. The flu’s well-known symptoms include fever, cough, muscle aches, sore throat, runny nose, headaches, and fatigue, which typically last up to a week. Flu can be prevented, or its effects reduced, by the annual flu shot.

What to tell your student: They should go to the student health center soon after the onset of symptoms to get antiviral medicine, which can shorten the length of the flu. And, of course, they should get the annual vaccine at home or if it is offered on campus.

Before your student heads off to college, be sure they are up to date on recommended vaccinations. Ask your MPCP doctor what your child needs to stay healthy and reduce their risk of illness.

Dr. Keithley holds her medical degree from Drexel University College of Medicine and is certified by the American Board of Family Practice. She sees patients in MPCP’s Arnold office.