College students understand that being close to others is not a choice. When you live very close to roommates and share places like bathrooms, showers, study areas, and places to eat – sometimes even being physically close – germs are bound to spread. Illnesses like colds, and infections in the upper part of your breathing system that can become more serious if left untreated, tend to spread easily in college settings.
Fortunately, “the majority of these illnesses are generally not life-threatening," asserts Alan Glass, the Director of Student Health at Washington University in St. Louis and President of the American College Health Association. "However, they can lead to academic absences for students, and during critical phases of the semester, even a few days can be the difference between achieving an 'A' or a 'B' grade."
So to protect your body (and your GPA) here are strategies worth considering to safeguard against contracting prevalent illnesses:
1. Avoid using the same area for washing dishes and oral hygiene. Just as you wouldn't bring food into a bathroom, refrain from using dishes in such spaces. Instead, locate a community kitchen sink within your dorm building. Otherwise, you could risk contracting gastrointestinal viruses, like norovirus, which can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Craig Roberts, a physician assistant with University Health Services at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, highlights the importance of this practice: "Bathroom surfaces are susceptible to swift and easy contamination. While any gastrointestinal infection, like E. coli or salmonella, poses a risk in this scenario, norovirus is particularly concerning due to its highly infectious nature."
2. Avoid sharing towels. Sports where players get up close, like football, can create a good environment for certain types of infections, like staph infection. This infection can even be resistant to some antibiotics- known as methicillin-resistant staph aureus (MRSA). To avoid spreading this infection, it's important to take a shower after each practice or game and avoid sharing towels. MRSA usually gets into the body through cuts or scrapes on the skin, so paying attention to any strange marks or red bumps on your skin is important.
3. Sanitize post-exercise. While it's rare, there is still a chance of getting severe infections like MRSA when you go to the gym. William Schaffner, who leads the Department of Preventive Medicine at Vanderbilt University, recommends using a towel and disinfectant spray to clean the workout machines after you're done using them. Also, if the equipment looks questionable, it's a good idea to clean it before you start exercising. And when you use water fountains, make sure the nozzle doesn't touch your lips directly.
4. Refrain from sharing utensils, water bottles, or glasses. Drinking from the same cup or trying someone else's food, especially using their eating tools, helps prevent infections like mononucleosis from spreading quickly.
5. Avoid spending time with individuals who are sick (Yes, even friends). When someone is coughing or sneezing, avoid making plans with them. This is especially important if that person is your roommate. Keeping a distance and using a "you stay on your side, I stay on mine" approach can help lower the chances of passing on any sickness.
6. Keep a thermometer in your room. Knowing your body temperature, especially if you have a fever, is important for understanding how sick you might be and deciding if you need to seek medical attention right away.
7. Carry hand sanitizer. Often, germs are transferred via surfaces such as computer keyboards or elevator buttons. Using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer after using such shared objects can reduce the likelihood of infection.
8. Test when you feel off. eMed’s Telehealth KitsTM offer peace of mind or a path to action when you begin to feel symptoms of illnesses like COVID, flu, and Strep. Visits are available 24/7 without scheduling or insurance. They’re also mobile friendly so you can use them anywhere you may be. Just test with a proctor, get evaluated by a clinician, and, if eligible, get prescribed the medication you need to get better.
Although playing hooky can be fun, being sick and away from home is never fun. However, following these suggested steps can greatly lower the chances of getting common infections and help students stay safer and healthier while they’re back on campus.