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Davis, California

Saturday, April 20, 2024

With respiratory illnesses on the rise, how can people protect themselves and others?

Students and the executive director at UC Davis’ Student Health and Counseling Services share their advice for the cold season


By SABRINA FIGUEROA— features@theaggie.org


Walking around the UC Davis campus, seeing masks and hearing people coughing and sneezing isn’t new during the winter quarter. But people are curious to know what is behind the amount of people getting sick at the same time. 

“I think we’re just in that time of year where respiratory illnesses circulate,” Margaret Trout, executive director of the UC Davis Student Health and Counseling Services, said. “This is based on the fact that the winter season is responsible for the circulation of over 200 respiratory illnesses that all have cold-like symptoms, including the flu, RSV, rhinoviruses and now COVID-19. 

Dr. Nahid Bhadelia, founding director of Boston University’s Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases Policy and Research, offers another logical explanation for the rise of respiratory illnesses this season. She stated that the severity of the viruses has not changed, but that the precautions taken during the pandemic slowed the spread of COVID as well as all other respiratory illnesses. 

Adding onto this explanation, immunity to common cold-causing viruses doesn’t last long if exposure is halted. “If your immunity dates back to strains that were in circulation three or four years ago, you’re needing to pay [that] back,” Dr. Luis Ostrosky, chief of infectious diseases and epidemiology at UTHealth Houston and Memorial Hermann, said. Once the body relearns how to build the antibodies, it will recover much faster with milder symptoms if exposed to the virus again. 

Although there seems to be a large number of people in the Davis community getting sick, according to wastewater data in Yolo County, it’s up to state and local governments, as well as the individual, to protect themselves and others. 

“We really want you to support your immune system in all sorts of ways which includes getting enough sleep, eating a nutritious diet and doing positive things for yourself,” Trout said. “I know it’s hard to sneak in enough sleep as a student, but be aware that when you’re running your body down because of studying and activities, you’re also taxing your immune system.”

Students at UC Davis also have their own takes on how sickness takes a toll on their education, especially during winter quarter, commonly thought of among students as one of the most stressful quarters in the academic year. 

“I don’t really have the time to be sick, it’s just really inconvenient […] you feel so unmotivated because you’re tired,” Alondra Pimentel-Solorio, a second-year human development major, said. “That makes it hard to stay caught up with your homework [and] making sure to do it on time. I just really don’t want [to get sick]; I’m trying to be as cautious as possible.” 

Being cautious and aware of these infectious diseases spreading across cities and college campuses are big steps in the right direction. Yolo County officials even began to recommend masking inside crowded indoor areas again. 

“I think masks are so important, especially that we utilize them now, it’s wonderful,” Trout said. “Other countries certainly utilized masks before COVID as a polite way not to share your germs with others, and I guess around here we just didn’t adopt them until the pandemic. Wearing a mask protects both you [and] if I happen to be sick, it can also really protect me. It’s also a nice barrier to keep people from touching their faces.”

According to Victoria Bechtel, a second-year neurobiology, physiology and behavior major, the best ways to take precautions include washing your hands, covering coughs and sneezes, wearing a mask when you or someone that you are close with doesn’t feel well, testing for COVID when necessary and getting enough sleep each night.

Along with wearing masks and making sure their hands are clean, there are other remedies people practice to make themselves feel better when they’re sick. Some are based on science, and some are based on cultural myths or even random “hacks” people try from TikTok and other social media platforms. 

Trout explained that a lot of the advice on preventing yourself from getting sick and getting others sick would be similar to what she’s always advised for the flu: putting as much energy as possible into the immune system. 

“[Once you’re sick], try to relax somehow, get some rest. Y’know, put something on Netflix that makes you feel better. There’s also over-the-counter things for fever and aches, things like that,” Trout said. “When I get sick, I try to switch over from coffee to tea, drink more fluids and hot liquids because the heat does actually open [sinuses] up. Sometimes it helps to even let the steam from your showers help open [your sinuses].” 

Tea helps with soothing sore throats, as well as hydration, which is the “main key” to helping your body fight illnesses, especially the flu. Fevers — a common symptom of cold-like viruses — cause your body to sweat in an attempt to lower its temperature, but sweating causes you to lose important electrolytes and water. In addition to tea, it’s also recommended to drink Gatorade, Pedialyte and broth to regain all the hydration your body lost. 

When it comes to foods, any foods with high Vitamin C are strongly recommended because they boost the immune system and its ability to fight off viruses. These include but are not limited to: oranges, broccoli, strawberries, potatoes, tomatoes and kiwi. 

As for medications, Pimentel-Solorio suggested DayQuil and NyQuil for coughs and other cold symptoms and ibuprofen or Advil for headaches. 

“I’m really reliant on medicine because I really want to get [the sickness] out of the way [quickly]” Pimentel-Solorio said. “When I was younger, I would not take medicine. After comparing my younger self to me now, I know that medicine is really important.” 

Following the CDC’s announcement that COVID-19 viral activity is very high in wastewater all around the US, the public is still not quite back at a “steady state” when it comes to cold and flu season. 

“I don’t actually think we know what, sort of, the ‘normal’ is post-pandemic yet,” Richard Webby, an influenza researcher at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, said. 

Bechtel explained that the “norm” for preventing sickness now and treating it is not the same as it was pre-pandemic. 

“[Now that COVID is in the mix], some things I do now, I definitely didn’t do before,” Bechtel said. “Just things like wearing a mask whenever I felt mildly sick, and taking COVID tests when family or friends didn’t feel well, weren’t things I did regularly until now.”

Pimentel-Solorio also chimed in on this topic, explaining the changes that the pandemic made to precautionary measures. 

 “I’m more of a germaphobe now,” Pimentel-Solorio said. “I put on way more hand sanitizer and I make sure to clean shared surfaces, and I just have gotten more aware of what I touch. I’m just much more aware of my surroundings.” 

A great resource for students to learn more or get advice about how to treat their illnesses is the UC Davis Student Health and Counseling Services. Regardless of UC SHIP or other insurance status, they are there for students who need help with physical and emotional well-being. 

Even if you’re not sick right now, viruses and bacterial infections are everywhere and they’re spreading. To protect yourself and community members, it’s better to be cautious, take preventative measures and know your options for when a time of crisis comes. 


Written by: Sabrina Figueroa— features@theaggie.org


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