Ways to stay healthy amid rise in respiratory illness

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The University of Michigan is advising how campus community members can protect themselves from a range of respiratory illnesses, such as the seasonal flu, amid expected increases in travel and indoor gatherings through the end of the fall term.

COVID-19, seasonal influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), adenovirus and many other respiratory viruses share similar symptoms such as a cough, sore throat, nasal congestion, fever or fatigue.

Respiratory viruses generally spread when an infected individual sneezes, coughs or talks near others. Any one of these illnesses could disrupt daily activities for several days or weeks, as time and rest and staying hydrated are the most common treatment for most cases.

Currently, pediatric emergency departments and hospitals in Michigan are seeing surges in respiratory illnesses and are nearing critical capacity. Students who are sick should call University Health Service at 734-764-8320 for medical guidance. Nurse advice is available anytime, day or night.

Throughout the fall term, U-M’s Public Health Response team has closely monitored conditions, including a recent increase in RSV cases across the nation, and its potential impact on the U-M community. RSV, which is most serious for infants and older adults, is a common cause of pneumonia and bronchiolitis, which similarly to bronchitis, leads to inflammation in lungs.

The number of respiratory viruses, including RSV, has remained steady on U-M’s three campuses this fall, although now is the time to consider personal efforts to further reduce the likelihood of experiencing a setback, said Robert D. Ernst, U-M’s chief health officer and associate vice president of student life.

“For influenza and COVID-19, getting vaccinated as soon as possible and certainly before the Thanksgiving holiday, will be one of the most important strategies to reduce the potential disruption associated with these illnesses as we head into winter,” said Ernst.

Other best practices for minimizing disruption stemming from respiratory illness in the final weeks of the semester should be familiar to the campus community. The Public Health Response team shares ways for members of the campus community to protect themselves and others, including more vulnerable family members and friends.

How to protect yourself from getting sick

  • Get vaccinated. Updated COVID-19 booster shots and influenza vaccines are available at University Health Service by appointment and at pop-up clinics across campus. On-campus flu clinics are also available through a partnership between Michigan Medicine’s Flu/Immunization Program, MHealthy and Student Life. These clinics are open to U-M students, faculty and staff. Local pharmacies also provide convenient, easy access to vaccines.
  • Consider wearing a mask when around others, especially in crowded indoor settings. Well-fitting masks and high filtration respirators remain effective tools to significantly reduce the likelihood of acquiring all respiratory viruses.
  • Assess risk before attending large gatherings. Those with a higher risk of complications due to underlying medical problems or immunocompromised state, you may want to limit potential exposure to illnesses by avoiding large crowds, especially indoors.
  • Maintain healthy habits. Preventive, healthy behaviors include frequent hand washing, cleaning frequently touched surfaces and avoiding touching areas of your face where the virus could enter.

How to protect others when you are sick

  • Stay home when sick. Anyone who does not feel well or has new symptoms — cough, sore throat, nasal congestion, fever or fatigue — should avoid gatherings and stay home.
  • Wear a mask, if you must go out. Choose an N-95 or other medical grade mask to help limit the spread of respiratory droplets.
  • Wear a mask, if exposed or experiencing symptoms, and you must go out. Choose an N-95 or other medical grade mask to help limit the spread of respiratory droplets.
  • Get tested. Those who do not feel better with time and rest should consider getting tested. UHS offers one test that can detect four types of respiratory illnesses: COVID-19, Influenza A and B, and RSV.

Students and UHS patients can schedule an appointment through the patient portal or by calling 734-764-8320. Faculty and staff can seek a test through Occupational Health Services by using the patient portal (preferred) or calling OHS at 734-764-8021.

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