Colds and the flu: What you can do!

Alissa Ricci

As finals and holiday break rapidly approach, no one wants to add stress by catching a cold or coming down with the flu. Becoming sick can create a vicious cycle that greatly inconveniences busy college students. Some students go to class despite their weakened physical state, while others miss class in order to visit the Student Health Center or rest. Whatever they choose, they still aren’t performing at an optimal level academically and will most likely have to catch up with work later on. So what can you do? By taking preventive measures against both colds and the flu and heeding the advice of the Student Health Center, you can create the best odds that you’ll stay healthy through the stressful end of the semester. Also, current students offer their tips and share their experiences to help you get a better perspective on dealing with illness and avoiding it.If you haven’t come down with a cold yet this year, chances are you will in the near future. Cold season started back in September and will continue until about mid-March. According to the Office of Health Promotion’s Web site, colds are the leading cause of doctor visits and of school and job absenteeism. Understanding how to avoid catching a cold starts with separating the truths and the myths about how people catch colds and how people attempt to prevent them. We’ve all heard the conventional wisdom on why people catch colds: going to bed or going outside with wet hair, staying outside for too long in cold weather or not drinking enough orange juice. But the truth is that colds are caused by over 200 different types of viruses, making it almost impossible to avoid being infected by one mutation or another. You can lower your susceptibility by taking the following measures from the Office of Health Promotion’s Web site:Avoid hanging around people who currently have colds. Cold weather alone does not cause colds, but cold weather does cause people to stay inside more often and in closer, more frequent contact with other people. This increases the chances of catching a virus, especially if other people in your social circle are already sick. Wash your hands. Most of us know this, but we either don’t do it or don’t do it often enough. So slap some soap on your hands and wash up!Don’t touch your eyes or nose, particularly if you already feel that you are coming down with something. This just makes it easier for germs to spread.Throw away your tissues right after you use them. Don’t carry them around in your purse or shove them in your pocket until later. Also, know that allergies and psychological stress have more influence than diet or exercise when it comes to your chances of catching a cold. “I swear by vitamin C when it comes to colds,” freshman Christy Rosati says. “I drink lots of orange juice and take vitamin C tablets.” While that certainly isn’t a bad idea, vitamin C is not proven to prevent colds, although it may decrease the amount of time you are sick and lessen the severity. Additionally, don’t overload your body with medication. Taking antihistamines, decongestants and cough suppressants only temporarily relieves symptoms but doesn’t actually kill the virus. The only way to recover from a cold is to rest, drink lots of fluids, knock back an aspirin and gargle with salt water. “Every time I go to the Health Center with cold-like symptoms, they give me Robitussin and salt water to gargle with,” senior Liz McElwee says. In other words, the Health Center gives you something to minimize your symptoms so that you can feel better and attend class, but recovery isn’t all about medication. The flu is a slightly different story. As presumably healthy 18- to 24-year-old college students, few of us are in the high risk group for contracting the flu. But don’t assume you don’t have to worry about it. Influenza kills about 36,000 people each year, according to the Office of Health Promotion’s Web site. Getting the flu vaccine is an important step to take in ensuring your health during this time of year. If you don’t like needles or getting shots, don’t fret. A nasal spray flu vaccine has become available: FluMist. Flu vaccines by nasal spray or injection are equally effective. The best time to get a flu vaccine is during the months of October and November, although you can still get it in December or later. The Health Office is currently offering the flu vaccine for $20, although it only has a limited available supply. Flu vaccines are also available elsewhere. Both the flu and the cold have similar symptoms, so visiting the Student Health Center is a good idea when you begin to feel sick. Taking steps toward keeping yourself healthy will minimize the chances that you will have to make such a visit.