As the weather becomes cooler, cold and flu (influenza) season begins in the United States. You can catch a cold or the flu at any time of year, but both are more widespread in the cold months. It’s hard to study and learn when you’re sick, so follow these tips to stay well.

Prevention

Ideally, you won’t get sick at all if you practice good hygiene (habits to prevent spread of disease) and self-care.

Wash your hands

The Centers for Disease Control identify hand-washing as one of the most effective ways to prevent spreading germs. Wash your hands with soap after using the restroom, before and after eating or preparing food, and after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose. It’s also smart to wash your hands if possible after touching surfaces like doorknobs that are touched by many people.

Consider a flu shot

You can get a flu shot at a doctor’s office, health department, or pharmacy. It doesn’t guarantee that you won’t get the flu, but it decreases your chances.

Take care of yourself

A healthy body will often be affected less severely by illness. Your studies and social life as an international student might not make it easy to take care of yourself, but a bad cold or the flu can slow you down even more. Try to get enough sleep, exercise regularly, and eat healthy foods more often than not.

If you get sick

Even if you follow all the tips above, you might get sick. Here’s what to do.

Stay home if you have a fever

A fever is a common sign of a contagious disease. Keep an inexpensive thermometer handy, and if your body temperature is above 100, consider staying home to rest and avoid sharing your germs with your classmates. Regular class attendance is important, especially for international students who must maintain good status to keep their visas. For this reason, try to avoid missing classes for trivial reasons. That way, you’ll have the freedom to miss class if you are sick.

Cover your mouth when coughing and sneezing

Germs often spread through the air. If you must go out (or if you have roommates), use the inside or your elbow or a tissue, and wash your hands afterwards if needed.

Drink lots of fluids

Water is the best choice, and juice, tea, or broth may also be soothing.

Rest, rest, rest

If you’re going to stay home, sleep or rest to give your body a chance to recover.

When to see a doctor

Rest, fluids, and over-the-counter medication (drugs that you can buy without a prescription from a doctor) are usually enough to treat a cold. If your fever, stuffy nose, or cough doesn’t improve, you may need to see a doctor to see if you have a sinus infection or bronchitis. Both of these can be treated with antibiotic drugs; a cold doesn’t require antibiotics.

The flu, like a cold, will get better with time and rest. You can get antiviral medication to shorten the length of the flu if you see a doctor within a day or two of becoming sick.

Unless you are having trouble breathing, do NOT go to the emergency room for a cold or the flu. You will have to wait a long time so that sicker patients can be treated, and the fee will be high. It’s better to go to a health clinic or doctor’s office if you need treatment.

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