Preventive measures help students stay healthy

Erin Zaranec

Among the sounds of students furiously typing their notes and professors lecturing their classes, one can hear many coughs, sneezes and sniffles around various lecture halls.

It’s that time of year: Illnesses such as influenza and the common cold spread across college campuses during the seasonal change from summer to autumn. While a college education provides students with knowledge on a variety of subjects, education on preventing and fighting illness might not be a common topic of discussion. Preventive measures, such as health tips and vaccinations, can help students fight these illnesses and make a healthy semester possible.

“Good hygiene is especially important in these situations,” said Cheryl Davis, a registered nurse who works as the program coordinator for nursing quality assurance at the Cleveland Clinic. “Washing your hands, keeping things cleaned off, coughing into your elbows–it’s all simple stuff but it can help keep you from getting sick.”

There are practical and simple solutions to assist with preventing the spread of germs. Davis said one of the most effective ways a student can kill germs is cleaning his or her living environment with antibacterial cleaners and carrying around hand sanitizer for situations when one cannot readily wash his or her hands. These simple measures can prevent germs from spreading.

Health Tips:

  • Keep a constant sleep schedule
  • Incorporate fresh fruits and vegetables into your diet whenever possible
  • Exercise, but don’t overwork your body
  • Manage your stress level
  • Keep your living space clean and germ-free

Keeping a balanced schedule can also help a student maintain full health. “Stress runs your body down; when you are stressed out, your body does not perform at optimum levels,” Davis said.

Tracey Motter, a registered nurse and senior undergraduate program director for Kent State’s College of Nursing, said that students should be aware of the different ways they can stress their body.

From staying up late to cram for a test to going out on weekends and barely getting sleep, Motter said maintaining a normal sleep schedule that consists of “going to bed at about the same time every night and waking up about the same time every morning” is an important step to fight stress from overwhelming a student’s body.

Exercising a few times a week can also help a student fight stress.

“It doesn’t have to be strenuous. You could go walk at the Rec Center; you could even go walk around campus,” Motter said. Along with keeping a student physically fit, exercising increases endorphins, which makes the body feel better, and also strengthens the body’s immune response.

Another step to preventing illness is getting vaccinated.

“For college students this age, the flu virus is the number one preventative vaccine. It is very, very helpful, and everyone should get it, especially if you are living in the dorms,” Motter said.

Although it is a step in the right direction, a vaccination does not guarantee that no illness will occur, Motter said. A student who receives a vaccination may still get sick, but will regain full health more quickly than peers who do not get vaccinated.

If a student is not dedicated to taking a variety of steps to keep themselves healthy, a vaccination alone may not help. There are a variety of factors that cause sickness.

“It is important to get enough sleep, eat properly, exercise regularly, and get your flu shot,” Becky Lehman, a health educator for the Portage County Health Department, said in an email interview.

If a student does happen to catch an illness, they should also be aware of the next steps to take in order to regain full health.

If a student is only coughing, sneezing and experiencing headaches or stomachaches, they most likely have a virus that will pass within a few days.

However, “if you are having chest pain or you really feel like you can’t breathe, you need to go to the (health) center,” Motter said. “If you’re vomiting and getting really dizzy, or if your mouth is really dry and you’re getting really, really dizzy, you need to go to the health center because then you’re dehydrated.”

“If you are experiencing a temperature over 100 degrees, I would say you should seek medical attention,” Davis said. “It is always better to play it safe than sorry, although sometimes fever is just another symptom of a 24-hour or 48-hour virus.”

Students should also be aware of the value of rest when they are sick. Motter said around this time of the year, the university encourages professors to allow students to skip class if they are ill. A simple email to a professor explaining that a student is sick can not only help a student get better faster but can also potentially stop other students from catching their illness.

As long as a student does not abuse this privilege, it is acceptable to miss a class or two in order to recover from an illness, Motter said.

All of that trouble can be avoided if a student focuses on their health year-round and not just when illnesses start spreading around campus

“If you are getting your right amount of sleep, drinking the right amount of fluids, limiting your junk food intake, eating some fresh fruits and vegetables and getting exercise, your immune response will be as strong as it can be,”Motter said.

Contact Erin Zaranec at [email protected].