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How to Stay Healthy When Your Roommate Is Sick

College dormitories are well-known for germ infestation and dissemination. What can you do to protect yourself if your roommate is sick? And what should every college student know about the most common infections on campus?

By
Sanaz Majd, MD,
Episode #222

Treatment of the Cold and Flu

The common cold and flu are viruses, not bacteria. Therefore, there is no cure. Antibiotics are ineffective for viruses; they are designed to destroy bacteria only. 

So what can you do?

Once contracted, the viral course needs to simply play out. Now that you are aware of the typical viral course, you will know where you are on its trajectory depending on the day number, so you will know what to expect. However, it doesn’t mean you should completely suffer either. Most viruses are treated using over-the-counter medications—but note that these are all symptomatic treatment only, not a cure. But they can help you tolerate the symptoms until you get over the illness.

For more specific suggestions on what to take for which symptom, please refer to my previous podcast on this very topic.

Prevention of the Cold and Flu

Both of these viruses are transmitted in two ways:

Via Touch:  This occurs after the infected person has touched their own face (eyes, mouth, or nose) that contains the viral particles and then touches you or another object also handled by you.

Via Air Droplets:  This is by far the most common route of spread. This happens when an infected person coughs or sneezes in the air, the viral particles enter the air, and then enter your mouth or nostrils and invade your body through these entryways. This is why wearing a mask can be very useful, especially in public spaces like airplanes and classrooms.

Here’s what everyone can do to stop these bugs in their tracks and to help protect your roommate from getting sick:

1. Get a flu shot:  Getting a flu shot doesn’t only protect you, it helps to protect others you live with or come into contact with. It protects you and those surrounding you, who might be even more susceptible—babies, parents, grandparents, siblings, spouse, co-workers, supermarket shoppers, etc., and, of course, your college roommates.

2. If you are sick, please do not cough or sneeze in the air: Do so in a tissue instead, discard the tissue right away, and then wash your hands immediately.  If a tissue is not readily available, please cough or sneeze in your elbow sleeve. Doing this one thing alone can really help greatly.

3.  Wear a mask:  If you wear a mask you cannot as easily transmit the virus to your classmates or roommates. You should also wear one at the doctor’s office, where more fragile patients often share space.

4. Don’t touch your face:  If you do not touch your face, then you cannot as easily transmit the virus via touch.

5. Wash your hands:  If you do touch your face, wash your hands immediately. If you are unable to wash with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, then please carry and use an anti-bacterial hand sanitizer.

Stomach Bugs

Personally, I’d rather have an upper respiratory bug any day over some of these nasty germs that wreak havoc on our digestive tract. Spending your days and nights close to a toilet can be quite debilitating. Here are some of the symptoms associated with infectious stomach illnesses, termed “gastroenteritis”:

Fever

Malaise

Diarrhea

Nausea and vomiting

Stomach ache

They are typically contracted in two ways – either via consumed contaminated food (called “food poisoning”) or via the touch of an infected person.

There are three main categories of stomach bugs:

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