With the current rise of influenza cases on campus, all of us need to remember the basics that help boost our immunity and put into practice on a daily basis the simple common-sense things that help prevent and contain the spread of upper respiratory illnesses. The flu (as well as other respiratory and gastrointestinal viruses) can spread rapidly among college students because of the classroom settings and living conditions where there are large numbers of people confined to small areas.
The flu is a respiratory illness caused by the influenza viruses. Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, sometimes called the "stomach flu" are not the primary symptoms of influenza.
Influenza has a rapid rather than a gradual onset with chills, fatigue, headache, muscle aches and a high fever (102-104 degrees Fahrenheit or greater). A dry cough, runny nose and sore throat are also typical. Occasionally these symptoms may be accompanied by some nausea and/or vomiting. The majority of these symptoms subside within five to six days. However, the respiratory symptoms may last for as long as two weeks before resolving completely and fatigue and depressed appetite may last even longer. The flu can be diagnosed based on the above history and confirmed with a test specific for influenza performed on a nasal swab.
Though the flu may make you uncomfortable, most people recover from it uneventfully. Antibiotics are of no use in the treatment of flu and other viral illness. The body's immune system cures most viral illnesses. Some people may experience complication including pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections, etc. People with underlying chronic illnesses are most at risk of complications.
Normal seasonal influenza and other respiratory viruses are usually spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The flu can also be spread via contact with objects such as door handles, telephones, keyboards or faucets that have been contaminated with the flu virus. A person then touches their mouth, eyes or nose and the virus starts reproducing in the mucous membranes. Once the flu (or any other viral illness) is seen it is difficult to contain an outbreak within the classroom and dormitory setting as someone with the flu can be contagious for one to two days prior to the onset of illness and for about five days after symptoms begin.
Get an annual flu shot. This is your best option for preventing seasonal flu. A flu shot does not guarantee that you will not get the flu as each year's vaccine is based on an estimate of which variant of the virus will be circulating. Even if it does not prevent the flu, the vaccine should at least lessen its severity. Some people may experience side effects like a mild headache or a low-grade fever for a day or two after receiving the shot, but the vaccine cannot give you the flu as it is made from a killed virus. It does take approximately two weeks for you to develop immunity after getting the shot.
The well student can decrease his chances of contracting the flu and many other illnesses by following these guidelines:
A few simple control measures can be effective in reducing the transmission of infection. The ill student should be considerate of his classmates and remember the following recommendations:
Most people who get influenza will recover in several days to less than two weeks, but are likely to experience fatigue and decreased appetite for a period afterwards. Getting extra rest, eating a balanced, healthy diet and making a special effort to increase your liquid intake will help you continue to recover.
Some people will develop complications as a result of the flu, such as a sinus infection, ear infection or pneumonia, from either the influenza virus infection alone or from co-infection with the flu virus and bacteria. The flu can also make chronic medical problems worse. For example, people with asthma may experience asthma attacks while they have the flu.
While it is typical with the flu for a person to experience cycles of high fever for several days, seek further medical advice if you experience: