Protect your nose from a stuffy winter flu season

It’s the kind of morning everyone dreads – waking up with a prickly throat, feeling lightheaded and sapped of energy, despite having gone to bed in seemingly perfect health. Quite possibly having caught a cold or even the flu, College students miss having Mom there to take their temperature and make them chicken soup, when they have professors, bosses and classmates expecting them to turn in papers, go to work and finish group projects.

College students have a difficult enough time juggling their full schedules in good health, so even a few days sick in bed are a major setback. To prevent an infection – and the burden of having to play catch-up after recovering – it is in anyone’s best interest to review what he or she can do to minimize his or her susceptibility to sickness.

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cannot yet predict the severity of this year’s flu season, which is already complicated by a vaccine shortage, the close living quarters of college residence halls already put students at an increased risk.

Respiratory illnesses like colds and the flu spread on contact. According to Janice Vermeychuk, assistant director of Health Services, organisms that cause infections, such as droplets from coughs and sneezes, can live on surfaces like doorknobs, telephone receivers, desks, computer keys and exercise equipment for 20 minutes to two hours.

Still, there’s no need to become germ-phobic. Simply trying these 10 tips will help ward off germs and boost one’s immune system.

1. Wash your hands and use alcohol-based hand wipes and gels, like Purell Instant Hand Sanitizer, when soap and warm water are not available. It is important to wash your hands for 15 to 20 seconds, which is about as much time as it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice each time after you cough or sneeze and before each meal time. Vermeychuk said she does not recommend using antibacterial gels or soaps because they contribute to antibiotic resistance.

2. Carry a pocket pack of tissues so you’ll be able to cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may seem like common sense, but it’s essential to avoid infecting others.

3. Take a multivitamin daily. One-A-Day makes multivitamins to meet the specific needs of men, women and dieters. Those with trouble swallowing tablets may want to try Centrum Chewables, which are orange-flavored and enriched with 13 vitamins and 10 minerals.

4. Increase your vitamin C intake by eating fresh fruits and vegetables. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food pyramid recommends five to nine servings a day.

5. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Avoid alcohol, caffeinated soda, coffee and cigarettes, as they contribute to dehydration.

6. Get as much sleep as possible, ideally seven to eight hours a night. As unfeasible as this might seem the night before you have a paper due or an exam to take, sharpening your time-management skills will help you avoid pulling an all-nighter.

7. Exercise regularly. A 20-minute workout out three times a week would do the trick, according to Health Services’ Web site.

8. Manage your stress so it does not weaken your immune system. You’ll already be on the right path to relaxation if you’re able to spare yourself extra time to sleep and work out.

9. Stay home or in your room if you’re feeling sick to prevent spreading your illness to others. You’ll just have to sacrifice that riveting lecture in the name of the common good – consider it a guilt-free excuse to miss class.

10. Ask your doctor about antiviral drugs if you think you are coming down with the flu or are in close contact with someone who has it. If taken within two days of getting sick, antiviral drugs can reduce symptoms of the flu and shorten its duration by one or two days. Tamiflu, Symmetrel, Relenza and Flumadine are the four FDA-approved antiviral drugs for treating the flu.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these antiviral drugs are about 70 to 90 percent effective for preventing illness in healthy adults. However, due to the shortage of the flu vaccine, antiviral drugs are also limited to high-risk individuals, Vermeychuk said.