IU Health & Wellness: West Nile virus, tailgating and school transitions
Research and insights from Indiana University
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Aug. 23, 2012
Karen Roos, M.D., John and Nancy Nelson Professor of Neurology and professor of neurological surgery at the Indiana University School of Medicine, called this year's outbreak of West Nile virus "scary." The outbreak is the worst since the first case was identified in 1999.
West Nile virus has been found in 30 states, and 800 people have been reported infected, including 26 who died from complications. There is no cure, but early treatment can help prevent long-term damage. The virus has symptoms similar to the flu. Roos says that if you have a fever and headache, call your doctor. If you have a fever, headache and stiff neck or are confused, go directly to the emergency room. The virus is only deadly if it attacks the brain or nervous system, and physicians have treatments that minimize swelling and permanent disability.
The best way to avoid contracting West Nile virus is to not be bitten by infected mosquitos. Since avoiding mosquitos in many places is virtually impossible, Roos advises people to limit their time outdoors at dusk and dawn, when the bugs are most active. Wear pants and long-sleeved shirts when possible outdoors and use an insect repellent, particularly ones that contain DEET. Make sure to check the expiration date of the repellent if it has been on your shelf for a long time.
The fervor for tailgating before, during and after major sporting events in the U.S. has spawned enduring social traditions, a market for team-themed chairs, tents and other goods, and possibly even a new slang word: "pregaming," which means speeding up intoxication by consuming alcoholic drinks before attending an event that involves more drinking.
Experts at the Indiana Prevention Resource Center, which is part of the Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington, say tailgate gatherings can be fun for families, but if the festivities involve or are near people binge drinking or playing drinking games, it might be best to leave younger children at home.
"There might be an alcohol- and smoke-free area of your college's football parking areas where you won't have to explain the worst displays of underage drinking behavior, including public intoxication and elimination, vomiting, fighting, sexual activity, vandalizing public or private property or other criminal mischief," said Carole Nowicke, a research associate at the Indiana Prevention Resource Center.
She says illegal activities should be reported to police. Most schools do not allow ticket holders to bring in alcohol and coolers, or even purses and bags, into their stadiums, so the stadium may be even "drier" than the parking lots.
Nowicke says tailgating offers parents the opportunity to model healthy and responsible behavior for their children and offered these suggestions:
- Discourage drinking games, and let your children know you disapprove of underaged drinking. Play ring-toss or bean-bag games without beer. Play games children enjoy that are not associated with drinking.
- If you consume alcohol in front of children, make it part of a meal and not part of an inebriation contest with other adults. Getting drunk in front of your kids leads them to do the same thing; children will model their alcohol consumption behavior on what they see at home.
- Don't be the "fun" parent who provides alcohol for underage drinkers at the game, or at your home.
- Bring healthy treats or entire meals for eating before the game, during halftime or after the game, such as cold (or hot) cider or fresh apples.
Nowicke said studies have found that it is very common for sports fans to drink alcohol at professional football and baseball games. One study found that fans younger than 35 were eight times more likely than other fans to be legally drunk, while those who had tailgated before the game had a 14 percent greater chance of being legally drunk. She said binge drinking at sporting events is not limited to college football, as anyone who has viewed the infield at the Indianapolis 500 or the Kentucky Derby can attest, but college football culture and professional sports franchises encourage heavy episodic or binge drinking.
The new Indiana Lifeline Law (SB 274), championed by student leaders at IU, provides immunity for crimes of public intoxication, underage drinking and minor transportation to people who reveal themselves to law enforcement while seeking medical assistance for a person with an alcohol-related health emergency. This new law will allow people who might have let their excessively intoxicated peers "sleep it off" to call for police assistance without concern about being arrested for being drunk and under the legal drinking age themselves. Alcohol poisoning, Nowicke notes, can be lethal.
The Higher Education Center for Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Violence Prevention has suggestions that event organizers can use to reduce high-risk drinking and negative consequences during events that involve tailgating.
If students show signs of unease or express misgivings about heading to school or college, parents should take their children's discomfort seriously. Helping them tap their strengths -- and possibly find part-time employment -- can help students warm up to new stages of their lives, said Indiana University shyness expert Bernardo J. Carducci.
"For students entering kindergarten, middle school, high school and college, the transition is of equal magnitude," said Bernardo J. Carducci, psychology professor and director of the Shyness Research Institute at IU Southeast. "We might think, 'Oh my goodness, going to college is really hard for a new student,' but if you're a 5-year-old kid, going to kindergarten is just as traumatic. For them, it's like going to a foreign country, just like college is like going to a foreign country for a lot of people."
Regardless of the milestone on the horizon, it's important for parents to take their child's concerns seriously.
"Don't dismiss the uniqueness of their experience," Carducci says. "Don't say, 'Oh, you'll be fine; don't be afraid.' No, take it seriously, be understanding."
Carducci said transition involves dealing with novelty, and when people are confronted with transition, they have a tendency to withdraw -- especially people who are shy or more timid to begin with.
"It's a normal, healthy kind of reaction," he said. "For shy and timid people, they just take a little more time to warm up to the situation, regardless of their age."
Carducci offers the following tips:
- Look for signs of unease. They can include students crying, feeling sick before school begins, showing reluctance to get out of the car, reminiscing about how nice their prior school situation was, or asking to come home every weekend from college because of difficulty meeting friends.
- Remove some of the uncertainty. Physically walk them around their new school or environment, if possible. Take advantage of orientations. Practice opening school lockers -- "It can be embarrassing to have trouble opening it."
- It's not really new. Show students "you've been here before," by showing them how their new experiences are similar to things they already do. Show kindergartners where they hang up their coat, for example, and tell them it's similar to how they hang up their coats at home, or that the toys are similar to their toys at home. Tell them the teacher will help them just like parents do at home.
- Ack, homework. In middle school academics often are ramped up -- and so is the amount of homework. Tell them, "Homework is just school work that you'll be doing at home," Carducci said. "The home is the school; the parent will be the teacher. You've done this before."
- Making friends. When students change schools, particularly when they go to high school, they often face a new social scene. Remind the students that they know how to make friends -- they have done this at other schools, or on vacations. Encourage them to befriend students with similar interests, such as music or academic clubs.
- They're not alone. The uncertainty the students feel is more common than they might expect. "You think you're the only one having a problem; look around, there are lots of other people there who are having difficulty," Carducci said. "The key: find someone who's lost, sitting alone, and help them. The worst thing about high school is being alone." Forming your own social group can help prevent bullying, too, Carducci said, because bullies tend to pick up vulnerable people -- people who are alone.
- Get a job. Carducci said students can work 10 to 14 hours a week without it hurting their grades. Working or performing service projects helps students budget their time better and make friends.
Carducci said some college students have trouble adjusting to their new freedom, where they have more personal accountability and less accountability to others.
"You can study or not study. You can go to class or not go to class," he said. "It's existential freedom -- the paradox of choice."
It's not uncommon for anxious college students to turn to their peers when deciding what to do with all their new discretionary time. Carducci said this can lead to excessive drinking because students often think this is a good way to become accepted. "We tell people, you're doing it because you're afraid, because you're alone," he said.
Here are some of his tips for helping college students adjust:
- Be a joiner. Parents should encourage their college students to get involved in groups or activities on campus that involve their strengths and things they enjoy, like academic clubs, sports clubs or other groups. This campus connection will help them meet friends, increase their chances of graduating and avoid temptations to drink excessively, which can lead to a host of problems, such as addiction and assault. Also, encourage the students to try different things, such as social mixers, films. "Tell them, 'Just go -- you never know who you'll see there.' Encourage them to take advantage of all the university has to offer. If they go to an event and see someone else alone, go talk to them."
- Get a job, or volunteer. Carducci says working during college also can be helpful because it requires students to manage their time better and helps them earn some money and meet new people. He recommends working 12 to 18 hours a week; working more hours get in the way of academics. Volunteering also is a good way to make friends and to meet people with similar interests.
- Tough love. If the students want to come home, "Tell them, 'No, stay.'"
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