It’s that time of year again. As frigid weather and relentless studying drives us indoors, our stress levels skyrocket and so do our chances of catching a cold or the flu.
According to nurse Cheryl Krause, director of Student Health Services, college students are extremely vulnerable to getting sick this time of year.
“I’ve seen many college students get very ill, and it’s because they were run down to begin with,” she said. “It’s this time of year that things are starting to pile on, and as things start to pile on, the amount of sleep gets less; the amount of time you take out to eat and drink right, those get less.”
Although it seems impossible to survive cold and flu season, there are plenty of tips to help you through it.
1. Wash your hands
If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a million times, but washing your hands really is the best way to prevent the spread of germs.
“The number one thing you need to do, is you need to keep your hands clean,” Krause said.
And if you can’t make it to the sink, at least use hand sanitizer. With hand sanitizer key chains and stations in Baldwin, it shouldn’t be too hard to find a way to get your hands clean. However, if your hands are visibly dirty, Krause suggests you take the time to properly clean them.
2. Keep your hands away from your face
Think of all the things you touch in a day, and think of how many other people touch those same things. When you touch those things, the germs transfer onto your hands and into your body through your eyes, nose and mouth when you touch your face.
And it goes the other way too. By containing your cough, you prevent others from picking up your germs as well.
“You have to remember to cough into your sleeve or your elbow,” Krause said. “Don’t cough into your hands because your hands are what you touch everything with.
3. Manage your stress and sleep
As college kids, an abundance of stress and a lack of sleep come with the territory. We pull all-nighters to study for exams or finish papers, but it’s just not healthy. If that wasn’t bad enough, exams and the start of a new semester fall right within cold and flu season..
Krause is a big advocate for students getting more sleep, especially when they’re sick.
“I want them to sleep more,” she said, “ It’s very difficult to say to a student you know things are going to get better if they tell me they’re only getting three or four hours a night.”
And if you were planning to ignore this advice and stay up all night anyway, you might want to reconsider.
“Your circadian rhythm tells you that you need to sleep at night,” Krause said. “So you’re much better off going to bed, sleeping at night and getting up early in the morning to finish things rather than trying to do it all night long.”
4. Take time for yourself
Krause also wants students to do something fun for themselves. “On a really heavy week, it seems like you’re out of sorts the whole time, and you never feel really good,” she said. She advises students get out of their heads and do something relaxing and fun when they can.
“If you want to go out get a cup of coffee, go have a cup of coffee, [and] don’t take your books with you when you do it,” she said. “If you want to take a walk around campus, take a walk around campus, and try to think about something other than your studies.”
Don’t let the stress get to you; let go and do something you enjoy, even if only for a few minutes.
5. Eat and drink properly
College students are passionate about food, especially if it’s free. Luckily for us, eating and drinking the right stuff can actually help us stay healthy. Krause recommends that we eat three meals including fruits and vegetables and drink two liters of water a day.
Also, consider a daily vitamin. It doesn’t take long to pop a Flintstone’s vitamin tablet into your mouth, and it might just save you in the end. “If taking a vitamin every day keep you from getting the flu or a cold, then I would take the vitamin,” Krause said.
6. Dress for the weather
Don’t be that guy who wears a white t-shirt when it’s 25 degrees out. It doesn’t make you look cool, and it definitely won’t keep you healthy. And no matter how late you are for class, try not to go outside when your hair is wet.
To quote Krause, “Just because there’s not snow on the sidewalks doesn’t mean flip flops are a good idea.”
7. Know the difference between the common cold and the flu
The flu and the common cold can be easily confused. They both give you a stuffy nose, a cough and make you regret living in Michigan, but the flu is much more severe. According to Krause, the flu will include a fever between 100 and 104 degrees, intense body aches and a sudden onset of symptoms.
Flu symptoms are more severe than cold symptoms, so it’s important to know the difference so you can get the medication you need. With a cold, home remedies, rest and ibuprofen should get you through it. With the flu, more specialized care is needed. Tamiflu, for example, is a medication that can lessen the symptoms and time needed to recover from the flu. However, it is most effective when administered within 48 hours of contracting the flu. The sooner you can determine which illness you have, the sooner you can get the proper treatment.
8. Better your living area
Just like your hands, keep your living space clean. Think about it; if everything around you is covered in germs, then those germs are going to eventually find their way into you.
In the winter, the dryness of your room can make you more vulnerable to respiratory illnesses and sinus infections, as well as the cold and flu.
“What we find during the winter is that our residence halls are very dry,” Krause said, “and so if you can use a humidifier in your room, especially when you sleep, that helps.”
9. Don’t give into temptation—stay home
College is busy. We run from class to meetings to dinner to the library to hanging out with friends. There’s always something to do on campus, which can be a great thing, but can also be detrimental to your health and others’. Although it seems like the end of the world to miss a class, meeting or campus event, Krause recommends sick students stay in.
“If the temptation when they’re here at school is that they go and visit all their friends and go to all their meetings even though they’re sick, that’s not the best idea because all they’re going to do it spread it,” she said. “If they’re to take a day or so off to go home a day early for the weekend, it’s probably not a bad idea either.
10. Visit Student Health Services
Cold and flu season is undoubtedly rough, but Student Health Services is prepared to help. Be sure to head over if you have a high temperature or have been sick for more than a few days.
They have flu kits with chicken noodle soup, tea packets, tissues, cough drops and ibuprofen to help you out.
They also have flu shots and Tamiflu. “The best way to avoid [the flu] is to get a flu shot,” Krause said. If you go right now, they’re giving out candy bars to anyone who gets the shot.
If you’re worried about the pain, worry no more. “This year we have an intradermal vaccine,” Krause said, “which means that it doesn’t go into your muscle, it just goes into the skin. People seem to like it better because it doesn’t sting as much.”
Student Health Services is open 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday to Friday. If you need help after hours, there are seven-day clinics in Jackson and Marshall, as well as plenty of resources on Student Health Services’ webpage.
Photo by Clare Kolenda