Colds, Coughs, and Contact: staying healthy in flu season

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Preventing sickness:

For this edition, I chose to write about the flu season which starts in earnest right around this time of year. As the school year has progressed, the attendance record has seen a steady increase in the number of absentees due to illness. According to the record of school attendance, the number of absentees on a given day due to illness can fluctuate anywhere from around 3 people in the entire school to above 50. Starting with the week of September 11th, the number of absentees due to illness began to steadily increase. Some days saw more absentees than others; for example, the Monday after the Senior Pilgrimage, there were 19 seniors alone that were absent due to illness, which is a pretty unusual number in comparison to days with 6-8 seniors absent. That number doesn’t even account for the people that went home during the day because of sickness, or the people that came to school despite having a cold. Although the Pilgrimage is one of the great highlights of Jesuit High School’s campus ministry program and many seniors’ experiences, the chance of getting sick afterwards may be higher. Following a weekend of physical exertion and limited sleep in a group setting, an individual’s immunity could be lower than usual, thus leading to easier transmission of viruses that cause colds from person to person. Similar transmissions of viruses can be seen in other group gatherings as well.
A little background information on the common cold: it is the most frequently occurring disease in the world, and it is a leading cause of doctor visits and missed days from school and work. It is estimated that individuals living in the USA suffer 1 billion colds per year collectively (or about 3.1 colds per person), with approximately 22 million days of school absences recorded annually.
In spite of the “senior sickness,” the season for the common cold is here, and taking necessary precautions can help with alleviating symptoms and preventing illness.

Prevention tip #1: HAND-WASHING
This cannot be stressed enough. A study by LiveScience stated that only 5% of people wash their hands correctly, or 15-20 seconds vigorously with soap, as stated by the CDC. This study also reported that 1/5 people don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom, and out of the ones that do wash their hands, 2/3 people report using soap. Washing hands 20 times a day is obviously not ideal, but before and after meals and after the bathroom would ensure less risk for catching a cold.

Prevention tip #2:AVOID SHARING FOOD WHEN SOMEONE’S SICK
As a common courtesy to friends and those around you, try and refrain from sharing food when someone is sick. In general, sharing food during flu season increases risk for developing a cold, but especially with someone already sick.
Prevention tip #3: DON’T TOUCH SURFACES AND THEN YOUR FACE
Imagine how many kids sit in your desk everyday. Six classes per day, and if a group activity is going on, then even more kids. If a kid with a cold has previously occupied your desk and then you rest your face on it or hands and then touch your face, odds are you likely transferred the virus to yourself. The hand sanitizers in most classrooms are there to help prevent spread of germs.

Prevention tip #4: GET YOUR FLU SHOT
According to the CDC, locations in the Southern Hemisphere (such as Australia and SE Asia) have just finished a really bad flu season. To decrease your chance of getting the flu this season, you should get your flu shot within the next couple of weeks. Also, although the flu vaccine is not 100% effective, even if you are in the 2% category chance that still catches the flu, it will be a lot milder and easier to get rid of than without having had the shot.

Prevention tip #5: TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF
Stress can severely increase a person’s risk for developing a common cold. Combined with sleep deprivation, stress can weaken the immune system and leave it more susceptible to infection. If you’re really stressed and can feel yourself starting to get sick, take a day off. It’s better that you take a day off early on before a cold develops and you have a chance to pass it on to another person. Take care of your wellbeing first; it’s okay to take sick days.
Another fact to be aware of is that cold weather doesn’t actually cause a cold. Cold weather forces more people indoors, and the frequent close proximity of people is one of the reason that colds develop more often in winter months. Keeping that in mind, taking that information as justification to freeze yourself outside in the cold weather isn’t wise in terms of keeping good health.
If you’re currently at home with the common cold, Tylenol, Advil, drinking plenty of fluids, cough syrup or drops, and getting rest will all help alleviate symptoms. Since the virus strand evolves by year, getting a flu shot is a step in the right direction to help prevent illness. Do what you can to keep yourself healthy and minimize the risk of spreading the flu to others around you!