Student Health Corner | How to stay well during cold and flu season

By JULIE RAMBIN, Ranger Reporter:

Hand sanitizer and pocket-sized tissues are sure signs that cold and flu season is in full swing. No one wants to get sick, but what are the best ways to protect yourself and others?

“The biggest thing is good hand washing,” Jeanette Embrey, assistant professor of nursing, said. Students should try not to be exposed to other people coughing on them, as this is a primary way colds and flu are passed from person to person. A few simple measures can help to keep a student’s immune system in top shape. Embrey recommended that students should “rest well, get enough sleep, try to decrease stress… and maintain healthy eating habits.”

Many students use hand sanitizer, but there really is no substitute for washing your hands well. “You shouldn’t just use sanitizer and never wash your hands; you should wash your hands and then use sanitizer,” Embrey said. Hand sanitizer can cause skin dryness or a rash in people with sensitive skin, so if you choose to use it, use wisely.

Despite protective measures, it’s still possible to catch a cold or flu. There are no prescription medications that will cure your cold, but for severe cases of flu, antiviral drugs are available. In most cases of cold and flu, the best treatment doesn’t require a trip to the doctor. Students with cold or flu “really need to take some time out and rest,” Embrey said.

Over-the-counter vitamin supplements are a tempting option, but they’re not for everyone. “If somebody’s on another type of medication, the supplements can interact with it,” Embrey said. “You have to look up side effects and be careful about the dosing.”

It’s unclear whether supplements and herbal remedies have any significant benefit, and “if you have enough rest and you’re on a decent diet, you don’t really need to have a lot of supplements,” Embrey said.

A trip to the medicine cupboard can ease cold and flu symptoms for many students. “If they have a fever, they might want to take an over-the-counter medication that would get their fever down, but if they have a fever for more than a day and a half, they might need to see their health care provider,” Embrey said.

If a student does get a cold or flu, the best ways to avoid passing it on are simple common-sense measures. “You don’t want to be sneezing on anyone, or to have close contact. Handwashing is the big thing, to make sure you’re not carrying on germs to other people,” Embrey said.

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