Did you get the flu shot this year? If so, you are among the small 37 percent of Americans who did. If not, you may want to consider visiting the campus clinic, a local pharmacy or your regular doctor to get one, especially as you return to school after winter break. With the 2013 flu season being one of the worst in years, you need to find a way to protect yourself against this illness. So take heed and follow these tips to stay healthy as you return to campus.
Know the flu
There are some major differences between the common cold and influenza (the flu) — and it’s important to to determine which illness you have. Flu F.A.C.T.S breaks down the main differences, noting that influenza has some specific characteristics. Usually flu symptoms include F.A.C.T.S.:
- Sudden Onset
Although many influenza-like symptoms can also be seen with a cold, a fever, body aches, headache and fatigue are rare.
Even if you get the flu shot — known to be on average 60 to 70 percent effective — you may still be at risk. According to an article for USA Today written by Cathy Lynn Grossman, Elizabeth Weise and Judy Keen on January 10, 2013, “Deaths increase, misery mounts as flu sweeps nation,” colleges are flu breeding grounds.
The article cites University of Virginia’s Executive Director of the Department of Student Health, Dr. James Turner, who states that campuses are particularly susceptible to flu outbreaks as “students live together in relatively crowded conditions, they eat together, they learn together in large classrooms, and they tend to socialize in large groups, and all of these facilitate the spread of germs.”
The good news is that there are ways for you to protect yourself against this illness. Aside from getting the flu vaccine (which you should really consider if you haven’t already), follow these common health tips to stay well:
- Avoid contact with people you know are ill
- Never share utensils, cups or bottles
- Use dish detergent and sanitize your coffee cup or favorite mug after each use
- Wash your hands frequently, especially after class
- Avoid touching your mouth, eyes or nose
- If you are feeling run down, stay home
- Clean common areas with disinfectant often — especially door and sink handles
Even the most diligent of students, however, can still find themselves plagued with the flu. If this happens, the best thing to do is rest. Not only will this allow your body time to recover, it will ensure that you don’t spread the illness to someone else. Under no circumstances should you attempt to return to class or work until you have been fever free for 24 hours.
An article on MedlinePlus.com, “College students and the flu,” explains the best steps to take if you do fall ill: alternate acetaminophen and ibuprofen, but do not take aspirin. “Over-the-counter cold medicines may relieve some of your symptoms. Throat lozenges or sprays that contain an anesthetic will help with your sore throat.” Plenty of fluids are also a must. If you opt to visit a doctor, you may end up with a prescription for either oseltamivir (Tamiflu) or zanamivir (Relenza), medications that may help mask flu symptoms.
Although it may not be necessary to see a physician, if you have any underlying, chronic illness, it is imperative that you do so. This could mean that you are at a greater risk of complications from the flu. And, according to a January 04, 2013, article by Alexa Lippman for College Lifestyles titled “CL Spotlight: Tips and Tricks to a Healthy Semester,” a student should visit his or her campus health center if he or she “has a fever and he/she has taken Tylenol or Ibuprofen and the fever is not going down, for 24 hours.”
The flu is a miserable experience so, if you do get it, try to make yourself as comfortable as possible — and don’t overdo it. Your friends, family and professors would rather you rest and get well before returning to class. So take care of yourself!