Friday, September 10, 2010

Staying safe on campus: Protect yourself from infectious disease

For a young adult, college can be one of the most exciting times in your life: living on your own, making new friends, learning new things. But this newfound independence also comes with responsibility. (Yes, your parents were right!)

It’s important to stay healthy while away at school and to protect yourself from infectious disease, not only for you but for your fellow classmates. It’s particularly important on campus where students live close together in dorms and share study space, classrooms and meals.

And it’s not just the common cold we’re talking about. In the last few years, there have been reports of outbreaks of mumps on some Midwest college campuses, meningitis at New York schools and H1N1 flu at Washington State University and at many other colleges. And these are just a few examples. The threat is real, and students should know how to protect themselves.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, illnesses like colds and flu are mainly spread from person to person in cough and sneeze droplets. Some viruses and bacteria can live two hours or longer on surfaces like cafeteria tables, doorknobs and desks. In college, everyone shares computers and other workspaces, so keep this in mind when in large common areas.

Follow these tips to help protect yourself from infectious diseases:

Wash your hands.
• Carry hand sanitizer in your backpack for when soap and water are not available.
Cover your cough. Cough or sneeze into a tissue and then throw it away. Cover your cough or sneeze into your elbow if you don’t have a tissue.
• Make a daily effort to sanitize your room and workspaces, especially if you have a roommate.
• Keep your distance from other students if they’re sick or if you feel sick.
• If you don’t feel well, stay in. Don’t go to class or spend time in large common areas. Most colleges have exceptions for those who are sick. Check to see what your school says about making up class work if you’re absent due to illness.
• Wash your clothes and sheets regularly to remove germs or bacteria.
Get vaccinated. Vaccinations help prevent diseases and save lives. Most college campuses offer free vaccines for the flu or other viruses.

Since last year’s flu pandemic, many colleges came up with preparedness plans and tips on how to stay healthy during flu season. Check with your campus officials or health center to see what suggestions they offer for preventing the spread of disease.
So before you get sick and call mom and dad for some chicken noodle soup, follow these tips to help you stay healthy.

Photo is courtesy iStockphoto

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