How to Not Get Sick

Have you been sick recently? I know that my family is just coming out of a persistent and lingering head cold that turned into a fever, lot of coughing, and a double ear infection for my daughter. I also heard that folks around campus were talking about the #uncplague. Yep, it is that time of year again: Cold and Flu season, which warrants the annual reminder about what to do to not get sick.

And I have a few suggestions:

Photo (Wash Hands Frequently) by (Fairfax County), Flickr Creative Commons
Photo (Wash Hands Frequently) by (Fairfax County), Flickr Creative Commons

Wash your hands (and stop touching your face).

Illness is often spread by people getting the a virus on their hands from touching someone or something that a sick person has coughed on, sneezed on, or touched, and then touching their face. You may remember from the movie Contagion that people touch their face 2,000 to 3,000 times a day. This might be a bit of an overestimate, but in a recent study, random people touched their face 3.6 times an hour and with the same hand also touched common objects that others had touched. So wash your hands and stop touching your face so much.

When should you wash ’em?

  • Before, during, and after preparing food
  • Before and after caring for someone who is sick
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound
  • After riding on public transportation
  • After using the toilet
  • After using shared gym equipment
  • After handling money
  • After changing diapers or cleaning up a child
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste
  • After touching or taking out garbage
  • After any other potentially gross things you do that I couldn’t think of


We get that it’s difficult – but sleep is critical to keep your body functioning. Getting good sleep is about developing good habits, or “Sleep Hygiene.” Harvard Medical School has a Division of Sleep Medicine website which we highly recommend if you are interested in learning more about sleep. They have listed 12 tips for improving sleep which are amazingRead them nowSeriously.


Stop and take a sip anytime you pass a water fountain. Carry a water bottle with you to hydrate throughout the day. Drink a glass of water as the first thing you do when you wake up (on second thought: first pee, then drink the water). Drink at least a glass of water with each meal. There are loads of tricks like these to ensure you stay hydrated. Incorporate at least one into your life.


When you are really sick, stay home.

Email your professors, let group partners know that you are sick, and tell your coaches that you cannot come to practice. I am as guilty as anyone I know of breaking this rule regularly; there is still part of me that thinks I just need to “tough it out” and work through it. Unfortunately, our society often still rewards or finds it admirable when individuals fight through a sickness, but we need to change this norm. I am not saying take advantage of a sickness. If you have a sniffle or a tickle in your throat I might not advise that you lay in bed all day, but if you truly are sick, you are protecting others by staying home. You also most likely will not get much out of being in class or at a meeting if you are not feeling well.

Get a flu shot

According to the CDC the number of deaths due to the flu has ranged from as low as 3,000 to as high as 49,000 per year in the United States in recent years.

Photo (Flu vaccinations make their way to U.S. Army in Europe) by (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District), Flickr Creative Commons
Photo (Flu vaccinations make their way to U.S. Army in Europe) by (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District), Flickr Creative Commons

Get a flu shot. You do NOT get the Flu from a Flu shot. Let me say that again: you do NOT get the Flu from a Flu shot. Some people do get a low-grade fever and headache from the vaccine, but this is just the body reacting to the foreign substance, not the Flu. According to the CDC, vaccines given to children have saved more than 732,000 lives and trillions of dollars over the last 2 decade. There is also absolutely no evidence that the Flu vaccine –or any other vaccines– present significant harm, and the idea that vaccines cause autism is a complete myth. The worst that could happen is that the Flu shot does not provide protection for the strain of the Flu that is being passed around but, even in that case, there is nothing lost by getting the shot. Most people who work in public health will agree that vaccinations are one of the most important innovations of modern medicine and protect not only the individual getting the shot, but others around them.

So each flu season, get yourself that flu shot. The vaccine usually becomes available around October and remains an option for you through at least January.


Do what you can to stay well, friends. And when you get sick, check out Campus Health’s cold-care guide or make an appointment.


This post was originally published on October 14, 2014 by Jedadiah Wood. It was updated and reposted February 19, 2016.

The Best Way to Stay Healthy During Flu Season – Get Your Flu Shot!

– by John Schimmelfing, PharmD

The most common questions I, as a pharmacist, get asked about the flu shot are:

When should I get it?” and “Why should I get it?”.

To address the “when”, the simple answer is that it is recommended to get it as soon as it becomes available, which is typically in late-August to early October, from most medical offices and community pharmacies; look for sites around UNC’s campus beginning September 15th, and beginning in late September, make an appointment with UNC Campus Health Services or walk into CHS Pharmacy (check out for when/where flu clinics are happening around UNC’s campus).  Don’t wait to try to “time it;” you may forget and get it after the flu has begun to spread around, or forget to get it completely.  Also, the flu can hit at any time, especially in a community where students from all over the globe are grouped together in tight living and classroom spaces.  The peak flu season varies by hemisphere.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends everyone in the USA get their flu shot by October, if possible, but getting it later can still be beneficial.  Flu vaccine protection lasts throughout the entire flu season for most people (the protection for elderly adults tends to decline more so than other age groups).  Flu vaccine protection does not last throughout multiple years, however, so even if the flu strains present in the vaccine remain the same in consecutive years, it is still important to get your flu shot EVERY year.

A conversation I have far too often with friends and patients involves some rendition of the following:

Them: “But can’t the flu shot give me the flu?

Me: “No.

Them: “Are you sure?

Me: “Yes.

Think of it this way: if I show you a few doors, radiator, some tires, wheels, leather bucket seats, windshield, tail lights, etc. you will recognize this as a car, but that car is nonfunctional because it does not possess all of its parts and will not be able to run you over; this is the same way the flu vaccine works.  The vaccine presents your immune system non-functional pieces of a flu virus so that your body can recognize it and help plan a defense against it should an infection with the full-functioning, attacking virus occur.

The conversation will sometimes continue with:

Them: “But my cousin’s dad’s mom’s grandchild got the flu shot, and then got the flu three days later!

Me: “Welp, they should have gotten the flu shot earlier; a body takes two full weeks to develop antibodies to combat the flu strains in that year’s flu shot.

Them: “But my other friend got the flu shot, and then got the flu a couple months later!

It is known that flu vaccines are not 100% effective,  but even if you do happen to get the flu after getting the flu shot, your illness should be milder and for a shorter duration than if you neglected to receive the flu shot at all.

The conversation can then detour:

But I never get sick, why should I get the flu shot?

The flu vaccine not only protects you, but also others you come in contact with.  Just because you don’t show symptoms doesn’t mean that you don’t have the flu; you can spread it to others without showing physical symptoms.  This is important for protecting others who are more at-risk (such as young children, elderly adults, and people with a suppressed immune system) than young, strapping 20-something college students.  It is also important to help protect people who may not be able to receive the flu shot due to severe allergies or being younger than 6 months of age.

Other methods to help prevent the spread of the flu virus include:

  • Wash hands often with soap and water
  • Avoid sharing beverages
  • Cover mouth/nose with your sleeve when coughing/sneezing in the “Dracula fashion”

dracula flu

(Graphic borrowed with permission from the University of Arizona)

Other things to keep in mind:

  • Get the flu shot.
  • If you have ever had Guillain-Barre Syndrome, talk to your doctor before receiving the flu shot.
  • If you do get ill, manage symptoms with products recommended by your healthcare provider, rest as much as possible, and drink plenty of fluids (avoid alcohol and caffeine to promote healing and proper rest). Also, antiviral medications (such as Tamiflu) may improve healing time and work best when taken within 48 hours of feeling sick.
  • Get the flu shot.
  • Side effects: like all medications, the flu vaccine can present some side effects; the most common are: redness, soreness, and inflammation around the injection site that can last for a few days. Some patients can feel a bit “rundown” for a few days, which can be an effect of your body’s immune system ramping up.
  • Get the flu shot.

The best way to protect yourself and others from getting the flu is to get the flu shot and encourage others to do so.


For more information, please contact your pharmacist, healthcare provider, and refer to the CDC websites:

John Taylor Schimmelfing is a Pharmacist at Campus Health Services. John graduated from Elon before obtaining his PharmD from the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy. He also happens to be a National, World and Junior Olympic jump rope champion, which clearly qualifies him as an expert on all things jump rope related such as whether jump rope is two words or one (it’s two!). 


10 Tips on Avoiding the Flu this Winter!

Flu Vaccine Clinic by Lower Columbia College (LCC), Flickr Creative Commons
Flu Vaccine Clinic by Lower Columbia College (LCC), Flickr Creative Commons

Want to avoid catching the flu this winter? Here are ten quick tips to help you stay healthy and flu-free in 2015.

  1. Get the flu shot! It’s not too late. Call Campus Health at 919-966-2281 and make an appointment to get yours today! ****Note: As of 1/13/15 Campus Health is out of flu vaccines. Check out this link to Locate available flu vaccines in your area.
  2. Wash your hands vigorously and frequently with soap and water.
  3. Avoid commonly touched areas (doorknobs, faucets, keyboards at the library, etc.) as much as possible, and wipe them down with sanitizing wipes often. Carry a pack of sanitizing wipes with you so that you’re always prepared.
  4. Make sure to get plenty of Vitamin C each day, which is found in oranges, grapefruits, red and green peppers, broccoli, and many other fruits and vegetables!
  5. Get plenty of sleep! Your body needs to be well rested to fight off the flu.
  6. Avoid touching your nose, mouth, and eyes as much as possible. This will help stop the spread of germs.
  7. Avoid close contact with people who are sick. This is how the flu spreads.
  8. Clean and disinfect frequently used areas in your dorm room/apartment/house. For example, clean your kitchen countertops and bathroom sinks regularly. Disinfect your laptop keyboard, doorknobs, and appliance (e.g., microwave, oven, and refrigerator) handles with sanitizing wipes frequently.
  9. Carry hand sanitizer with you throughout the day for those times when you aren’t able to wash your hands with soap and water.
  10. Check out Campus Health’s information on what to do if you do get sick or visit the CDC so that you’re prepared. And be on the lookout for the flu’s most common symptoms: cough, fever, runny/stuffy nose, sore throat, chills, body aches, fatigue, headache, diarrhea, and vomiting.

Questions? Need more information? Think you might have the flu? Contact Campus Health at 919-966-2281 or visit

Flu Vaccination + You

The change in colors, the brisker mornings each day… Indeed, ‘tis the season for flu. Influenza – or “Flu” for short—is a family of viruses that cause infections with symptoms like fever, runny noses, coughing and congestion.  Flu may be thought of as a nuisance by some, but in addition to inferring with school work/social plans for a few weeks, the flu is also a big contributor to hospitalizations and even mortality in the United States. October is the start of flu season, with peak flu months are in January and February. However, the flu season can extend even further than that each year.  Getting a flu vaccine is an important way to reduce risk of influenza infections, so we’ll answer some frequently asked questions about why, how and when to get vaccinated.

Why are flu vaccines important?

We can think of flu vaccine as both important to you, as an individual, and for an entire population. If you get the vaccine, you reduce your own risk of contracting the flu. In addition, you also reduce your chances of transmitting the flu to others. Thus, in addition to reducing your own flu risk, you also help to reduce the number you could potentially infect, and by extension, help curb the possibility of a potential epidemic in a population.

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