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Health / Safety

Cold and flu prevention on a college campus

September 28, 2012

Just like the changing of the weather, this time of year can signify cold and flu season is upon us.

College students know that coming down with a nasty cold or a raging case of the flu often affects their academic performance – so what steps can you take to stay healthy?

College lifestyle habits and living situations, as well as exposure to germs, play a role in colds and flu on a campus. Although most of us have heard those common prevention and treatment tips more than once, it bears repeating, perhaps with a few more suggestions to consider.

Stay healthy

Follow these tips to stay healthy and prevent the spread of colds and flu:

  • Practice good hand hygiene. Wash your hands with warm, soapy water for 20-30 seconds, especially after coughing or sneezing. Alcohol-based hand cleaners also are effective, unless your hands are visibly soiled or grossly contaminated.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Perform routine cleaning. Studies have shown that the flu virus can survive on surfaces and can infect a person for 2 to 8 hours after being deposited on the surface. Clean items and surfaces likely to have frequent hand contact like door knobs, phones, keyboards, counters, desks, remote controls, refrigerator handles, etc.
  • Try boosting your immune system with a few strategies.
  1. Sleep hygiene -7 to 8 hours of sleep is optimal for most people.
  2. Stress management - Deep breathing and relaxation techniques can be helpful in managing stress. Chronic stress can make you more inclined to colds and/or the flu.
  3. Physical activity –Aerobic and strength building exercise several times a week builds long-term immunity against viruses.
  4. Healthy diet --Include plenty of fruits and vegetables a day, as well as whole grains and healthy sources of fat and protein. 
  • Know the signs and symptoms of the flu. In general, the flu is worse than the common cold, and symptoms such as fever, chills, body aches, headache, extreme tiredness, and dry cough are more common and intense. Some people who have been infected with the influenza virus also have diarrhea and vomiting. Colds are usually milder than the flu, and people with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose, often accompanied by sneezing. Sore throats can be common. Colds generally do not lead to more serious health problems, such as pneumonia, bacterial infections, or hospitalizations, but the flu can. For more information, visit the CDC Seasonal Flu page and information page about antibiotics.
  • Protect yourself with seasonal flu vaccinations every year as recommended by the CDC. Flu shots are now available at the CSU Health Network. The cost is $20 for students and $25 for non-students. CSU Health Network Immunizations Clinic is located in the Hartshorn Building and is open from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Mon, Wed, Thurs, and Fri and from 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. on Tues. No appointment is necessary. For more information about flu vaccines, see the CDC quick facts website.
  • Practice respiratory etiquette. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. If you don't have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your elbow or shoulder, not into your hands.
  • Stay home if you have flu or flu-like illness until 24 hours after resolution of your fever and respiratory symptoms. Your fever should be gone without the use of fever reducing medicine.  Don't go to class or work; socially distance yourself from others. Ask a roommate or friend to check up on you and to bring you food and supplies, if needed.

Home flu and cold care

  • Drink clear fluids- Water, soup broths, and herbal tea can help you stay hydrated.
  • Ibuprofen or Acetaminophen- Take to reduce fever and relieve body aches; use as directed.
  • Antiviral medication –Antibiotics won't work for viral infections – such as the flu and a cold. Antiviral medication may help for specific strains of the influenza virus, but only when given within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. Ask your doctor if this therapy might benefit you.  Antibiotics and antiviral medications do not treat the common cold.
  • Avoid smoking and alcohol use - Smoking may increase your symptoms, especially cough, or make you more prone to develop bronchitis and pneumonia. Alcohol dehydrates the body.
  • Sleep- Get enough sleep to feel completely rested and allow your body to heal.
  • Soothe a sore throat- Gargle warm salt water (1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt in 8 ounces of water).
  • Decongest- Use camphor or menthol rubs to clear nasal passages.
  • Inhale - Breathe the steam from hot beverages, and also take deep breaths when in the shower.

For more information about homecare, visit these CDC pages: www.cdc.gov/flu/takingcare.htm and http://www.cdc.gov/flu/homecare/

Seek medical attention if...

If you become ill and experience any of the following warning signs, seek emergency medical care.

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Severe headache
  • Very stiff neck
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough

Contact: Dell Rae Moellenberg
E-mail: dellrae.moellenberg@colostate.edu
Phone: (970) 491-6009