Join the discussion about health care issues in our nation and community on our blog, WakeMed Voices.

Related Links

Share/Save/Bookmark
Decrease (-) Restore Default Increase (+)

Related Links

College students and the flu

Definition

Every year, the flu spreads across college campuses nationwide. Close living quarters, communal restrooms, and an abundance of social activities means college students have a greater chance of catching the flu.

This article will give you information about the flu and college students. This is not a substitute for medical advice from your doctor.

Information

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF THE FLU?

The flu is an infection of the nose, throat, and (sometimes) lungs. A college student with the flu will usually have a fever of 100 °F or higher and a sore throat or a cough. Other symptoms may include:

  • Chills, sore muscles, and headache
  • Runny nose
  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhea and vomiting

Most people with milder symptoms should feel better within 3 to 4 days and do not need to see a doctor or nurse.

Avoid contact with other people and drink plenty of fluids if you are experiencing any of the symptoms above.

HOW DO I TREAT MY SYMPTOMS?

Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) help lower fever. Sometimes doctors advise you to use both types of medicine.

  • Take acetaminophen every 4 - 6 hours.
  • Take ibuprofen every 6 - 8 hours.
  • Do NOT use aspirin.

A fever does not need to come all the way down to normal. Most people will feel better when their temperature drops by even one degree.

Over-the-counter cold medicines may relieve some of your symptoms. Throat lozenges or sprays that contain an anesthetic will help with your sore throat. Check your student health center’s web site for more information.

WHAT ABOUT ANTIVIRAL MEDICATIONS?

Most people with milder symptoms feel better within 3 to 4 days and do not need to take antiviral medications.

If you have any of the medical conditions below you may be at risk for a more severe case of the flu and should talk to your doctor about whether you would benefit from taking antiviral medications:

  • Chronic lung (including asthma) or heart conditions (except high blood pressure)
  • Kidney, liver, neurologic, and neuromuscular conditions
  • Blood disorders (including sickle cell disease)
  • Diabetes and other metabolic disorders
  • An immune system that does not work well, such as AIDS patients or cancer patients receiving chemotherapy or radiation therapy, or someone taking corticosteroid pills every day
  • A chronic medical problem

Two antiviral medicines are used to treat some people who have the flu. They are oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza). These drugs work better if you start taking them within 2 days of your first symptoms.

HOW SOON AFTER MY SYMPTOMS GO AWAY CAN I RETURN TO SCHOOL?

You should be able to return to school when you’re feeling well and have not had a fever for 24 hours (without taking acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or other medicines to lower your fever).

SHOULD I GET THE FLU VACCINE?

Yes -- even if you've had a flu-like illness already. If you are 24 or under, you are in a high risk group for swine (H1N1) flu, and the CDC recommends that you should receive the vaccine first.

Receiving the flu vaccine will help protect you from getting the flu. The 2010 vaccine also protects against swine flu. Remember, if you don't get the flu, you will not pass it on to others either.

WHERE CAN I GET THE VACCINES?

Check with your student health center, your local pharmacist, your doctor's office, your place of work, or anywhere else that is offering the vaccine.

HOW DO I AVOID CATCHING OR SPREADING SWINE FLU?

  • Stay in your apartment, dorm room, or home for at least 24 hours after any fever is gone. Wear a mask if you leave your room.
  • Avoid sharing food, utensils, cups, or bottles.
  • Cover your cough with a tissue and throw away after use.
  • Carry hand sanitizer with you. Use it often during the day and always after touching your face.
  • Cough into your sleeve if a tissue is not available.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.

WHEN SHOULD I SEE A DOCTOR?

Most people of college age do not need to see a doctor or nurse when they have symptoms of the flu. This is because most people of college-age are not at risk for a severe case.

If you feel you should see a doctor or nurse, call their office about your symptoms first before going there.

Knowing you are coming will help the office staff prepare for your visit, so that you do not spread germs to other people there.

If you have an increased risk of complications from the flu, you should contact your medical provider. These risk factors include:

  • Chronic lung problems (including asthma or COPD)
  • Heart problems (except high blood pressure)
  • Kidney disease or failure (long-term)
  • Liver disease (long-term)
  • Brain or nervous system disorder
  • Blood disorders (including sickle cell disease)
  • Diabetes and other metabolic disorders
  • Weak immune system (such as patients with AIDS, cancer, or an organ transplant; receiving chemotherapy or radiation therapy; or taking corticosteroid pills every day)

You may also want to talk to the doctor if you are around others who may be at risk for a severe case of the flu, including people who:

  • Live with or care for a child 6 months old or younger
  • Work in a health care setting and have direct contact with patients
  • Live with or care for someone with a chronic medical problem who has not been vaccinated for the flu

Call your doctor right away or go to the emergency room if you have:

  • Difficulty breathing, or shortness of breath
  • Chest pain or abdominal pain
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion, or problems reasoning
  • Severe vomiting, or vomiting that does not go away
  • Having fever and a worse cough AFTER flu-like symptoms seemed to improve
  • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough

References

Seasonal flu: what to do if you get sick. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed October 4, 2010.


Review Date: 10/4/2010
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
adam.com