Health director discusses common cold
Emily McConville | Tuesday, September 20, 2016
For University Health Services, outbreaks of the common cold — like the one happening now — are like clockwork.
“We can tell when the common cold season hits,” University Health Services (UHS) director Sharon McMullen said. “Our medical director walked by me … and said, yep, we know it’s the middle of September, because students are getting sick.”
While UHS does not have a definite number of students visiting Saint Liam Hall with colds, McMullen said UHS has seen an uptick in students coming in over the past couple of weeks with coughs and runny noses. Upper respiratory viruses are one of the main reasons students go to the doctor at this point in the year, she said.
The culprit is proximity, “the biggest factor for cold transmission on any college campus,” McMullen said. Thousands of students descending on campus gives the several strains of rhinovirus — the primary cause of the common cold — the perfect opportunity to move from host to host.
That proximity is compounded by other factors that lower the immune system’s ability to fight off the cold, like a student’s sleep schedule.
“Everyone’s been in school for a month,” McMullen said. “They’re starting to get sleep deprived.”
McMullen said the best preventative methods are those students may have heard growing up — and make for better health overall — such as sleeping and eating well, getting exercise and enjoying time with friends.
“They can also try to avoid infection; that’s done most effectively by hand-washing,” she said. “I know it sounds simplistic, but it’s the truth. Hand-washing is the single most effective way to prevent infection.”
If you do get a cold — which happens to the average person two or three times a year and more often for college students — you’re generally stuck with it for seven to 10 days. The side effects of over-the-counter cold medicines can be as bad as or worse than the cold itself, McMullen said. She said those with colds should get rest, drink fluids and try to prevent the virus’s advance by covering their cough.
McMullen said students should see a doctor if symptoms don’t go away, if they are particularly severe or unusual or if they have a fever higher than 100.4 degrees for more than three days. She said they should also watch out for the flu, characterized by longer-lasting and more severe symptoms.
“If in the morning you feel normal and by dinnertime you feel like you’ve been hit by a truck, that’s the flu,” she said.
McMullen said free flu vaccines will become available next week.
In the meantime, “wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands,” she said.