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How to Stay Healthy in College During Cold and Flu Season

Getting sick is never fun. Here are a few winter health tips to prevent the flu and stay healthy while living in the dorms.

A female doctor showing something on a tablet to a male patient with a man bun.

Whether you are studying in a cold climate or your campus is in a warm region of the US—winter is cold and flu season. While common illnesses are often not very serious for students with a healthy immune system, flu viruses can lead to missed classes, fatigue, and general discomfort that can be hard to deal with, especially when you are far from home. 

All college students need to know how to prevent the flu, how to prevent a cold, and overall, how to stay healthy, so they can keep on top of their coursework—and avoid the setbacks that winter illnesses can cause. 

Here are some winter health tips for flu season 2020.

Flu FAQ

What is the flu? 

The flu, short for influenza, is a viral respiratory illness. Possible flu symptoms include cough, sore throat, stuffy nose, fever, cold sweats, body aches, headache, and fatigue. Sometimes, flu viruses have gastrointestinal symptoms, such as vomiting and diarrhea.

When does flu season start? 

According to the New York Times, the term “influenza” may have originated in the mid-18th century, from the Italian influenza di freddo, which translates to “influence of the cold.” So, once colder weather hits–as early as October–cases of the flu begin to show up. When does flu season end? Sometimes as late as March, says the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

How is a cold different from the flu? 

Like the flu, the common cold is also a virus, but a cold’s symptoms are usually limited to coughing or sneezing, a sore throat, and a stuffy nose. Typically, colds tend to be less severe than the flu.

Can I get the flu if the weather is not cold? 

You do not need to be in a wintry climate, like the University of Illinois at Chicago in the Midwest or the University of Massachusetts Boston in the Northeast, to be exposed to the flu. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), flu viruses thrive not only in cold-dry climates, but also during the humid rainy season in more temperate environments. So, taking proper precautions against getting sick in college is important for everyone, no matter where you are studying in the USA. 

How do you catch the flu?

According to the CDC, the flu is transmitted person to person, especially those you are in close contact with—so the people coughing or sneezing in your dorm or classrooms could be passing their sickness to you through the air. Another way to contract the flu is by touching an infected surface with your hands, and then touching your own mouth and nose, or rubbing your eyes.

How to stay healthy in winter

Cold or rainy weather usually means closed windows on campus. This means germs may be circulating in the air and commonly touched surfaces may be harboring viruses. 

Here are a few healthy habits that can help in preventing the flu:

Wash your hands 

One of the best ways to stay healthy is plain old soap and water to keep your hands clean. Take this simple approach to preventing the flu and avoid touching your mouth and nose as much as possible.

Keep surfaces clean

Keyboards, phones, doorknobs, and desktops—these commonly used surfaces can be a breeding ground for germs. Antibacterial wipes are an easy approach to disease control and prevention, especially during cold and flu season.

Eat healthy and exercise

Make sure to get at least five servings of fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet each day and carry a water bottle to stay well-hydrated–not only in winter, but all year round.

Get plenty of sleep

Another important healthy habit is getting good sleep, especially if you are starting to feel sick. When in doubt, stay home and rest. 

Immunize as early as possible 

Flu season 2020 is on track to be among the worst, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, so protect yourself with the flu shot. Many campus health centers offer free flu vaccines for students, so consider getting vaccinated (if you have not already).

What happens if you get sick?

If you still get sick with the flu, do not panic. You can buy pain relievers, fever reducers, cough suppressants, and decongestants at any pharmacy to help you manage your flu symptoms, but remember that they will not help your body process the illness any faster. Usually you will feel much better after a day or two, but if symptoms last longer than a week, head to a health center on campus to get checked out. 

Since the flu is viral, not bacterial, antibiotics are not typically used to treat the flu. Simple at-home remedies include having hot soup to clear your sinuses. (It is important to eat, even if you do not feel hungry, to keep up your strength as you fight the illness.) Gargling with warm saltwater can help soothe your throat, as can drinking tea with honey. A cool washcloth on your forehead can help with a fever. 

Do everything you can to stay healthy, but do not worry if you get sick—it is completely normal and usually not a big deal. Of course, if you need help or are falling behind on your coursework due to illness, your Shorelight advisor is always there for you. But your healthy habits will serve you well this cold and flu season. 

Now, go wash your hands! 

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