By Laci Sutton / Staff Writer

Living in the dorms, you’re sharing a 10-by-12 foot box with another human being. You share most of your belongings with your roommate or other friends, which in turn means you’re also sharing germs.

In this case, sharing is not always caring.

The flu is a highly contagious respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus. It can be spread by people as far away as six feet. Influenza is an airborne disease, meaning it’s spread by people talking, coughing or sneezing.

People with influenza are most contagious for the first 3-4 days after having the virus. People can be contagious without even showing symptoms.

Selena Oronia is a sophomore at Hutchinson Community College who was affected by the flu this winter.

“I honestly felt like I was dying,” Oronia said. “My body felt extremely achy, I had nose congestion, and I lost my appetite. I could not breathe whatsoever.”

The symptoms for the flu are similar to those of a common cold, making it a little tricky to catch early. Some of the biggest differences between the two are seen with their onset – fever, and chills.

In a cold, the onset of symptoms is gradual. Having a fever is rare, and the chills are uncommon with a cold.

Influenza symptoms come on suddenly. A fever is usual, and the chills are fairly common with the flu.

Other common symptoms of the flu include sore throat, cough, runny nose, body aches, headache, and fatigue. Generally, flu symptoms last around 5-7 days.

“Having the flu is basically just seeing your life flash before your eyes,” Oronia said.

Luckily, the flu can be easily prevented.

Nancy Ciskey is a Doctor of Nursing Practice with the Hutchinson Area Student Health Services, located across the street from the Parker Student Union parking lot at 516 E. 14th Avenue.

“First and foremost would be to get your flu shot. We can give the vaccine here on campus. It’s $16.99 to get the flu shot here. It’s one of the services students do have to pay for,” Ciskey says, “but in the grand scheme of things, it’s much cheaper than missing class, work, and paying for medications.”

The flu shot is the first line of defense against getting influenza. It’s recommended to get the vaccine between September and October, though most medical professionals advise for October.

If a person hasn’t gotten a flu shot yet, it’s not too late. Flu season often doesn’t end until May, and it’s better to get it a little later in the season than never.

It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to fully develop protection against the disease.

Though the vaccine is not a 100% guarantee you won’t get the flu, it does significantly lower your risk.

To prevent spreading the flu, wash your hands, avoid contact with those who are ill, and if someone does show symptoms, it’s recommended they stay home or go see a doctor to receive proper treatment.

There are many over-the-counter options for treating the flu or flu-like illnesses.

“If you have body aches, chills, or fever, Ibuprofen or Tylenol are good things to take for that,” Ciskey said. “There’s a lot of cough and cold medications or lozenges available over the counter. Those are all based on the symptoms you’re having.”

If you are experiencing flu or flu-like symptoms, take a visit to Hutchinson Area Student Health Services or go see a doctor.

Stay healthy.

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