November 23, 2006

How to Beat the Bug

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As the days in Ithaca get shorter and colder, Cornellians increasingly fill the carrels of Olin and Uris library ready to study the night away. This is no coincidence as the end of the semester is the time for prelims, papers, and projects. However, the colder, darker days of winter also signals the start of the cold and flu season. While walking through the Olin, Uris, the dorms, or anyplace else it is not difficult to find someone already sniffling, sneezing, or coughing. As the winter days go by, more and more of your friends and peers will fall victim to these dreaded diseases.

Is there any hope? Is there any way to avoid the grasp of sickness and disease? With a little effort, there is a way. But first, let’s explore the two main types of diseases that commonly afflict people at this time of year – the common cold and the flu. The common cold is the most common of all human diseases (hence the name). People have colds all year round, but due to increased exposure during the wintertime, colds tend to become even more common. A cold is viral disease of the upper respiratory system and usually results in one or more symptoms. Sneezing, nasal congestion, sore throat, coughing, headache, and tiredness are all characteristic symptoms of a cold. The flu has similar symptoms, and because of this, it can be extremely difficult to tell the difference between a cold and the flu (especially during the early stages of the disease). However, the symptoms are usually more severe and can be accompanied by fever, chills, and/or body aches. Colds also generally do not lead to serious health problems, whereas the flu can lead to pneumonia, bacterial infections, and hospitalization.

Despite the differences between the two diseases, there are ways to prevent oneself from catching either of them. One of the major reasons that these diseases are more common in the winter is that people tend to spend more time indoors because of the cold weather. Thus, people are in more contact with other people during the winter. Since these diseases are transmitted by airborne droplets caused by coughs or sneezes, the amount of infections also goes up. The logical thing to do then, is to avoid contact with other people (especially sick people). This isn’t the most feasible thing to do since we are all Cornell students – that would require most of us to skip class, kick our roommates out, and stay in our rooms for the entire winter.

A more feasible thing to do is wash our hands more frequently. The diseases can be transmitted through the air, but it can also be transmitted through contaminated surfaces. If someone sneezes into their hand and then touches a doorknob, the next person who touches the doorknob is going to get his hands contaminated with the virus. If this person then touches his face (mouth, nose, or eyes), there is a pretty good chance that he will get the disease. Thus, try to be considerate: try coughing into your arm or aim your cough into the floor. Covering your mouth with your hands helps spread the disease. Nevertheless, hand washing and not touching your face are two of the best ways to prevent yourself from getting sick. Buying a small bottle of hand sanitizer is not a bad idea either. It is pretty much an instant hand wash anytime, anywhere.

It is also important to keep your immune systems strong during the cold and flu season. A stronger immune system will decrease the chance of getting the flu or a cold. Getting enough sleep, eating well, and exercising all contribute to a stronger immune system and will reduce your chance of getting sick.

And last but not least, a flu shot greatly reduces the chances of getting the flu. This does not reduce the chances of catching a cold, however. Gannett currently has flu shot clinics on campus for the rest of November continuing into early December. For an up-to-date schedule, be sure to check out their website:

Flu Shot Schedule

It may be tough to escape the winter without getting sick, but it is possible. With a little effort you can beat the bug.