By Tori Stadolnik
Winter is coming, and so are many common infectious diseases. Dorm living and stress from final exams contribute to the spread of many common bugs such as strep throat, flu, and norovirus. What are you supposed to do when your friend or roommate is sick?
College students don’t have the time to get sick, so prevention is key. One important thing you can do is get a flu vaccine (if you are not allergic to eggs). They are offered in doctor’s offices, urgent care centers, and drugstore clinics, to name a few places.
Many students have difficulty telling one illness from another.
Strep is caused by a bacterial infection. You may notice a very painful, inflamed throat; swollen lymph nodes; fever; headache; and general malaise. A throat culture can be performed to make sure it’s really strep.
Norovirus is a viral infection that causes vomiting and/or diarrhea and generally lasts for 48 hours. You may experience a low-grade fever, muscle aches, and abdominal pain.
The flu is caused by a virus, and its symptoms are respiratory. You may experience headaches, chest congestion, muscle weakness and pain, chills, fever, sore throat, swollen lymph nodes, and dehydration. Contrary to popular belief, the flu does not produce gastrointestinal symptoms (i.e. no vomiting and diarrhea). if you have GI symptoms, you have something else. Visit the health center to get a precise diagnosis.
Fortunately, there are several ways to prevent these illnesses.
Hand hygiene cannot be stressed enough. Viruses such as the flu can pass from person to person or from inanimate surfaces (ex: doorknobs, tables, computer mouse, keyboard) to people. It is crucial to wash your hands before eating and after using the bathroom. Washing your hands for 20-30 seconds with soap and warm water is the best way to kill germs, as alcohol-based hand antiseptics won’t kill all viruses and bacteria but Purell works in a pinch!
Also, do not cough and sneeze into your hands. Cough into the crook of your arm, or into your shoulder if you can. Sneeze into a tissue. Accidents and sudden attacks happen—we’re all human—just remember to wash your hands and/or sanitizer after. You can spread illness by coughing into your hands and then grabbing that door handle or the pole on the T.
Your personal nutrition is also important to your health. Make sure to drink plenty of water and eat a balanced diet. If you already have a healthy diet you may not need one, but it is not a bad idea to consider a multivitamin (don’t start any supplement regimen without speaking to your clinician first).
Furthermore, do not share food and drinks with people who are sick. Use common sense.
If you are sick, try not to attend lectures or club events if possible. Take that time to rest, and contact your professor and classmates for material you may have missed. The health center on the residence campus may be able to help you if you are under the weather.
Remember to get enough sleep and to de-stress. Take care of yourself in general and you will be less susceptible to illness.
If your roommate gets sick, this is a tricky situation, but you can take measures to prevent yourself by fleeing the scene, practicing good hand hygiene, and sanitizing surfaces (for example, with Lysol wipes). Study in the library or a lounge instead of your room.
You should only take an antibiotic if it is prescribed to you by a healthcare professional (doctor, nurse practitioner, or physician’s assistant). One large public health concern is antibiotic resistance —bacteria are actually beginning to resist treatment from antibiotics.
One way to combat this is to take antibiotics only as directed by your prescribing clinician. This means completing your course, not sharing antibiotics with others, and not starting and stopping antibiotic treatment just because you feel sick/better.
Furthermore, antibiotics are for bacterial infections, not viruses. Antibiotics will not help you if you have influenza or norovirus. Taking antibiotics when you are not supposed to is a major contributor to resistance.
To help alleviate your symptoms, you can take over-the-counter (nonprescription) medications if deemed safe and effective by your clinician. Always ask if you are unsure and always make sure to follow package and doctor directions.
Follow these precautions and your risk of becoming sick will decrease, and you can get through final exams as your shiny, happy, healthy, energetic self.