The fall season is in full swing, and a chill isn’t the only thing in the air. Respiratory viruses like the common cold, flu and COVID-19 begin circulating at high levels this time of the year and are not here to bring holiday cheer! No one has time to be sick – not with final exams, graduation and holiday breaks full of traveling and gathering to celebrate all that is great about the fall and winter seasons.
So, how can you stay healthy and be there for the moments that matter most? Just follow these tips to help prevent illnesses.
Staying healthy and preventing the spread of germs
There are actions you can take to prevent catching or spreading illness to others – and reduce the likelihood of getting very sick if you do become ill.
Get vaccinated! The CDC recommends a yearly seasonal flu vaccine as the first and most important step in protecting against seasonal flu. When more people get vaccinated, less illness can spread through the community. While there are many different flu viruses, the seasonal flu vaccine protects against the main seasonal flu strains that research indicates will cause the most illness during the flu season. The seasonal flu vaccine can protect you from getting sick from these viruses, or it can make your illness milder if you get a related flu virus.
An updated 2023-24 COVID-19 vaccine is also recommended for everyone over the age of 6 months to prevent severe illness. Much like the flu vaccine, you may still contract the virus, but being vaccinated reduces the rates of severe illness, hospitalization or death. It also lowers the risk of developing Long COVID.
Seasonal flu and COVID-19 vaccines are offered at Redfern Health Center. Appointments can be made online in MyHealth-e or by calling the pharmacy: 864-656-3562. Most flu and COVID-19 vaccines given in Redfern’s pharmacy will be covered by insurance at no cost to the student. It takes a couple of weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop and provide protection, so it’s important to get vaccinated now, before the upcoming breaks. More information can be found on the Student Health Services website.
There are other everyday preventative actions you can take to help prevent illness:
- Avoid touching your face (eyes, nose, mouth).
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or paper towel when coughing or sneezing.
- Wash your hands frequently or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects.
- Improve ventilation and filtration in indoor spaces to prevent virus particles from accumulating in the air; spend time outside when possible.
- Get plenty of sleep.
- Exercise regularly.
- Manage stress levels.
Signs and symptoms
Respiratory illnesses like the common cold, flu and COVID-19 have similar symptoms, so it can be very hard to tell the difference between them.
Cold versus flu
In general, the flu is worse than the common cold, and symptoms are more intense and begin more abruptly. These symptoms can include fever or feeling feverish/chills, muscle or body aches, fatigue, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, and headaches. Flu can have very serious associated complications. Every flu season is different, and people can be affected by flu differently.
Cold symptoms, such as such as sore throat, sneezing, runny or stuffy nose, and cough, are usually milder and appear gradually. People with colds are more like to have a runny or stuffy nose than people who have flu; colds generally do not result in serious health problems.
Flu versus COVID-19
COVID-19 spreads more easily than flu and can cause more severe illness in some individuals. People with COVID-19 may take longer to show symptoms and may be contagious for a longer period of time than people with flu. Because the symptoms of flu and COVID-19 are so similar, diagnostic tests are the only way to confirm these illnesses. Refer to the CDC’s website for more information about flu and COVID-19 symptoms and their similarities and differences.
If you do get sick
Most people with a cold, flu or COVID-19 have mild illness and do not need medical care or antiviral drugs. Home COVID-19 tests (antigen tests) are still widely available in pharmacies and should be utilized if you become ill. Because flu and COVID-19 are very contagious, you should stay home if you experience symptoms of these viruses or test positive. Staying home and away from others is important to stopping the spread of illness. Also, cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue, wash your hands often, stay hydrated and get lots of rest. If you live with roommates, see the University’s tips for navigating isolation in shared living spaces.
If you have symptoms of flu or COVID-19 and are in a higher-risk group, or are very sick or worried about your illness, contact Student Health Services or another health care provider to get medical care. Be sure to wear a facemask when you go.
Please note that Student Health Services does NOT provide excuses for class absence. If you’re sick and need to miss class, you should complete the Notification of Absence form available in Canvas. In addition to completing this form, you should communicate directly with your instructors regarding any missed assignments, preferably before a class or exam takes place.
To learn more about respiratory illnesses and what to do when sick, see the resources below:
Lesslie Pekarek, M.D.
Director of Medical Services
Student Health Services, Clemson University