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.

WORKOUT WEDNESDAY: Will the Cold Weather Actually Give You a Cold?

by: Emily Wheeler

Pretty much everyone who lives a sizable distance away from the equator has heard someone tell them that if they don’t bundle up before going out into the chilly weather, they’ll certainly get a cold. Some parents are obsessive about making sure their children look like Ralphie from “A Christmas Story” before they even let them consider going outside in the winter, and some well-educated adults still love to blame the outdoor temperature for their sniffles and coughs. We’ve had our share of cold weather and plenty of coughs and sneezes in Chapel Hill lately, but when we look into the facts, can the cold actually give you a cold?

Common cold symptoms include a sore throat that lasts for just one or two days, runny nose or nasal congestion, and a cough. Many different mild viruses, including the frequently mentioned rhinovirus, cause these symptoms. (Who knew that rhinos were the real cause of colds!? Sarcasm…) Viruses also cause the flu, which manifests symptoms similar to cold symptoms but with typically higher intensity and duration, and may also include fever, full-body achiness, and extreme exhaustion (1).

Because both cold and flu are caused by viruses, you cannot get a cold simply from being cold. Viral infections must enter the body through the eyes, nose, or mouth by contact with the virus itself, whether you’ve touched an infected desk at school or shared a drink with your significant other (1).

On the other hand, cold temperatures can indeed be an indirect cause of getting a cold. If you are out in the cold for an extended period of time without proper clothing, your overall body temperature will decrease to a point that suppresses the immune system. Cold temperatures can also cause blood vessels in the nose to constrict, leading to a dry nose and less mucus as a defense system in your sinus cavity. This combination of a suppressed immune system and decreased mucus, which is a first line of defense against viruses, can make you more susceptible to being infected by a virus with which you come into contact (2). However, exercising outside in the cold typically keeps the core body temperature from dropping too low, so don’t expect to see any hard-core runners staying indoors just because it feels like a refrigerator outside.

Cold temperatures may also stimulate mild asthma events in asthmatic individuals without causing a full-blown attack. Exposure to the cold may also actually stimulate your immune system to release more of the hormone norepinephrine, which can act as a decongestant and cause your nose to run (2). Many people mistake these symptoms for symptoms of an oncoming cold, and are quick to blame the weather for these naturally occurring events!

In fact, you might be more likely to catch a cold by staying indoors all the time in the winter because others around you are doing the same, creating a great environment for all of those cold-causing viruses to spread between several people in a limited amount of space.

The most effective ways to avoid getting a cold or the flu are not to bundle up or stay inside. Instead, you should wash your hands with warm water and soap often, and keep your hands away from your face! Certainly try to use hand sanitizer or wash your hands before you eat, put in contacts, or even rub your eyes.

As the evidence shows, the old saying that “the cold will give you a cold” turns out to be just a myth. Many sources say this assumption likely carries over from before medical knowledge had progressed enough to understand the immune system and the transmission of disease. People noticed that more people seemed to be sick during cold times of the year (the time we now like to call flu season), so they figured that the cold must be the culprit. People also used to think that swamp air caused malaria, when in fact it was the mosquitoes living near the swamps (2). Luckily, we now know that going out in the cold in shorts and a tee shirt might not give you a cold with coughs and sniffles, but we can’t change the fact that you’ll still look silly.

Enjoy this short video with great illustrations to hear more about other hypotheses that may explain more about the indirect relationship between getting sick, and being cold!