Dr. Price: Tips to prevent common respiratory, gastrointestinal illnesses

This is a guest post from Dr. Cecil Price, director of the Student Health Service:

Dr. Cecil Price

During the winter months we often are concerned about illnesses such as the “flu” and “stomach bugs” that might keep us out of work or that we might possibly bring home to our families from work.  One of the challenges of working on a college campus, especially for those of us who work closely with our students, is exposure to contagious illnesses.  College students, because of their close living environments as well as their busy, active lifestyles, are at risk of common contagious illnesses such as influenza and gastrointestinal viruses.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend several steps to prevent common respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses.


  • Reduces the number of people who get sick with diarrhea by 31 percent
  • Reduces respiratory illnesses, like colds, in the general population by 16-21 percent

Steps for effective handwashing:

  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
  2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under nails.
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds (hum the “Happy Birthday song from beginning to end twice).
  4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.
  6. Use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
  7. Soap and water is better than hand sanitizer for gastrointestinal illnesses.

Cover your cough

  1. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Put the used tissue in a waste basket.
  2. If you do not have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve or elbow, not your hand.
  3. Consider covering you nose and mouth with a face mask to protect others if you are actively coughing.
  4. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for 20 seconds. If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand rub (“hand sanitizer”)

Avoid exposures

  1. Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  2. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.
  3. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.
  4. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work, and school, especially when someone is ill.
  5. Do not prepare or serve food to others if you are ill with an acute gastrointestinal illness.

Stay away from work when ill

  1. In general for most respiratory illnesses, individuals should not return to work until they are feeling better and have gone 24 hours without a fever (without taking any medication for the fever).
  2. For gastrointestinal illnesses, individuals may remain contagious for up to two days after their symptoms have resolved. Consequently they should avoid returning to work for this 48-hour period of time.


  1. Be sure you are up-to-date on your age appropriate immunizations
  2. Remember to get an influenza vaccine every year
  3. Encourage members of your family, your colleagues at work, and your friends to get their annual influenza vaccine. If those you know are protected from influenza (“the flu”), you will be less likely to get it too!

If you are ill

  1. Get plenty of rest
  2. Drink lots of fluids
  3. Maintain good, healthy nutrition if able to eat
  4. Resume regular exercise once feeling better