4 Ways To Avoid Getting The Flu

The winter months often come bearing shorter days, frigid temperatures, and—as if freezing your behind off wasn't bad enough—flu season. And with close living quarters, large lecture halls, and crowded bars, the collegiette lifestyle certainly doesn’t provide any advantages when it comes to successfully avoiding influenza. Luckily there are ways to stop the flu before it starts, and HC is here to help ensure you dodge the dreaded seasonal virus, which typically reaches its peak from late December to mid-February. Check out our four tips to crank up your immune system and avoid catching the flu, plus what to do if you’ve already got it.   

1. Stay fresh

Making sure to wash or sanitize your hands in between classes, after the gym, and before and after eating is one of the best defensive measures you can take to protect yourself against the flu, as the virus spreads from person to person contact. Jennifer Berkman, the Director of Student Health Services at Salisbury University, shared another sneaky way the flu spreads: “The virus begins to reproduce once it comes in contact with the lining of the nose, throat and airways, so avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth as germs spread this way.” While avoiding close contact with anyone who is coughing and sniffling may seem like common sense, you also have to consider that the germ-infested areas of your college campus could get you sick as well. Anything from the elliptical machine at the gym to the cubicle you’re using at the library can carry harmful germs. Because of this, Berkman advises students to “clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home and at work, such as door knobs, counters, faucet handles, desks and keyboards.” Aside from campus, avoiding things like sharing lip balm and eye makeup with your girls will deter the spread of germs, as will ensuring dishes and linens are washed after use, Berkman suggests.

Sanitary wipes and portable hand sanitizing bottles are a great way to make protecting yourself convenient, and luckily many campuses have installed mounted sanitizer dispensers. For protection on-the-go, check out this mango hand sanitizer by The Body Shop and these cute portable hand wipes that are sold at Target. And if you think you’re safe from contracting the flu at college bars and house parties because all the sick kids are staying in, think again. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention infected persons are able to spread the virus one to four days before symptoms occur, which means someone could be spreading the virus before feeling any symptoms themselves. A close conversation, shared drink, or even a supposedly harmless makeout can put you at risk for contracting the virus, so make an effort to be extra careful this time of year.

2. Get some R&R

For all you busy collegiettes, R&R means rest and relaxation—and during flu season, you need both. While it can be difficult to make time for sleep between work, school, gym visits, extracurriculars and having a social life, Berkman shared that rest may prove to be just as much of an advantage for your physical health as it is for your mental and emotional well-being.

“I know personally how much sleep I’m getting directly affects how healthy I am,” says Salisbury University senior Marissa Loughry. “I feel like I get sick more often and am constantly worn out when I’m not getting enough rest.” Even making time for an extra hour of sleep could make a huge difference in overall health, and it definitely beats being out of commission for a week with the flu. If scheduling slumber has always been a challenge, figure out what it is that’s keep you up. Are you procrastinating during the day and then swamped at night with assignments and papers? Perhaps late night stressing about work, classes, and friends is taking a toll on your sleep schedule. Try establishing a mental rule that you will shut your laptop down 30 minutes before you intend to go to sleep. If stress is the culprit, making a list of everything on your mind before you hit the hay, and what, if anything you can do to fix it. And don’t forget that exercise is always a great stress reliever! Check out this list of ways to incorporate workouts into a busy semester.

3. Don’t skimp on a flu shot

“One of the best ways to prevent the flu is through vaccination each year,” says Berkman, Many campus health centers or pharmacies on campus provide affordable flu shots to students and faculty, many of which are offered for twenty dollars or less. Schools like New York University are taking student access a step farther by offering the vaccination for free.

Perhaps the most widely discussed and obvious way to dodge this year’s virus, you may be surprised how many collegiettes aren’t willing to shell out for the preventive vaccination. “Some of my friends have gotten it, but not a lot of them, and I know a lot of people have been sick lately,” says HC contributing writer and Indiana University sophomore Alexis Benveniste on the seeming disinterest students have in receiving the vaccine. Take some time to visit your student health center to get information on available vaccinations.

Still need more convincing? Take Kenyon College senior Maddy Foley’s flu experience:  “I couldn't get out of bed for days, and I ended up taking so much ibuprofen that I developed gastritis, which is when the lining of your stomach becomes swollen and inflamed and incredibly, incredibly painful,” she says. “This winter was the first time in years that I didn't get the flu shot; I definitely learned my lesson.”

However, it may be a good idea to consult your parents and doctor before receiving the shot, as some people are allergic to the vaccination. The most at-risk are “persons allergic to eggs or egg products or Thimerosal” says Berkman, and anyone who has received another immunization in the past two weeks should also not get the shot. Berkman goes on to debunk the myth that flu vaccines can cause you to be infected with the virus, explaining, “[the] vaccine contains only non-infectious viruses, it cannot cause influenza.”

And while it may be hard to spend precious bar and clothes money to be stabbed with a needle for something that you may not even contract, it’s safe to say that the flu vaccine, which protects against and array of viruses, is a solid investment for your flu season future.

4. Get your daily fix of vitamins

A daily vitamin should be a part of every girl’s routine, and this time of year it’s especially important to stock up on immunity boosting supplements that will help ward off colds and the flu. Investing in sources of Vitamins A, C, and E, which act as antioxidants and heighten immune function according to the Office of Dietary Supplements will help to restore cells and strengthen your body’s natural defense. And don’t worry about it breaking your bank! Many stores, like GNC and The Vitamin Shoppe, have supplements like the ones listed for under 10 dollars, and offer deals for those of us stocking up. And as always, there are delicious superfoods that pack an immunity boosting punch. For a yummy way to incorporate Vitamin A, try making winter favorites like baked sweet potatoes or butternut squash or adding a little bit of kale to your salad. For Vitamin C, eating more citrus fruits is a great way to get your dose. Or you could try a Vitamin C-packed smoothie like Naked Juice’s Power-C Machine Juice Smoothie. To include more Vitamin E in your diet, try a trail mix made up of almonds, pine nuts, and dried cranberries; it’s an awesome snack for breaks in between classes!

So what if the flu strikes you within the upcoming weeks? Unfortunately this guide doesn’t come equipped with any magic tricks that reverse its dreadful symptoms, but there are some steps you can take to ease the less-than-pleasant side effects. First of all, really make an effort to stay home and rest—for your own and everyone else’s sake. If possible, it may be a good idea to head home for a few days to recuperate and avoid spreading the virus on campus. Along with staying in and away from people, Berkman also suggests staying hydrated, taking Tylenol to lessen your fever, and “for symptoms such as congestion, cough and runny nose use a combination of a decongestant, like Sudafed, and an antihistamine such as Benedryl or Dimetapp.”

When it comes down to it, the flu is hard for any collegiette to cope with, so taking the necessary preventative measures is a great way to ensure a flu-free winter.