Swine Flu 101: College Survival Tips

Swine Flu Is Hitting Colleges; Find Out How to Deal With It

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on July 14, 2010
4 min read

Is swine flu, or H1N1 flu, back on campus? What if it strikes you, your roommate, or someone in your class?

Before you brush it off as hype, keep in mind that young adults, even healthy ones, are one of the high-risk groups for a bad case of swine flu. Although most cases haven't been severe, there have been deaths, affecting young adults more than you might expect.

Here are 12 tips for dealing with swine flu on campus.

1. Sick? Just stay home. From classes. From games. From the parties that, if your parents asked about, you definitely weren't at. From everything, except going to get medical care. If you've got flu-like symptoms -- fever or chills AND cough or sore throat, and maybe also runny nose, body aches, headache, tiredness, diarrhea, or vomiting -- consider yourself grounded until you've been free of fever, or signs of fever, for at least 24 hours without taking fever-reducing medicines.

2. Butter up your friends. You might need them as a "flu buddy" to help you keep up with class notes, assignments, food, supplies, and anything else you need from the outside world while you're in your swine flu bubble.

3. Clean up your crib. Got a sick roommate? Their germs can linger, so it's in your best interest to regularly clean shared surfaces such as doorknobs. Of course, you'll also need to keep your hands clean. Don't sneeze into them; use a tissue (once, and then throw it out) or your arm.

4. Build your flu supply stockpile. Just in case, stock your dorm room with tissues, a thermometer, and plenty of liquids so that you stay hydrated.

5. Alcohol? No go. Don't even think about putting alcohol on your liquid list, even if you're old enough to buy it legally. It's dehydrating, which is the opposite of what you'll need to avoid getting dehydrated by flu.

6. Can't avoid close contact? Get face masks. If you live on campus and get flu, you could move home temporarily while you recover. But if that isn't possible, and you can't (or won't) avoid close contact with other people -- which means being within 6 feet of them -- the CDC recommends that you wear surgical face masks to keep your germs to yourself. Don't reuse those face masks; they're made to be worn only once.

7. "Close contact" doesn't just mean kissing. Yes, you can spread your germs by kissing someone. But you don't have to be that close. Anywhere within 6 feet is close enough for your droplets to spread. So that's how far you need to stay away from people, unless you're wearing a face mask, to spare them your flu.

8. Don't take aspirin.Teens shouldn't take aspirin because of the risk of a rare but serious illness called Reye's syndrome. That includes baby aspirin. And at any age, follow the instructions exactly for any medicine, even if you bought it without a prescription, to avoid harmful side effects.

9. Your health: Hot or not? Certain medical conditions -- including asthma, diabetes, and pregnancy -- worsen your odds with swine flu. And some of those conditions, like diabetes, aren't always obvious. So even if you feel great, it wouldn't hurt to check with a health care provider to make sure you're as healthy as you think.

10. Misery loves company. If you get flu, there is one group of people you can still hang out with, face to face, without face masks and a gallon of hand sanitizer. "Ill students do not need to stay away from other ill students," the CDC's web site states. Maybe swine flu will actually widen your social circle. Just try to avoid sickening healthy bystanders.

11. Tell your teachers. If you come down with flu, you might not be under the gun to get your class work done as if you were healthy. The CDC is encouraging colleges and universities to make sure there aren't "academic consequences" for staying home when sick.

12. Know when it's an emergency. Hopefully, if you get swine flu, it won't knock you out for very long. But if any of the following things happen, seek urgent medical attention:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Flu-like symptoms that improve, but then come back with worsening fever or cough