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Updated 10/6/17 with added parent suggestions.
I hear this every year in the fall from parents. Complaints that their children have been sick since shortly after dropping them off at school. Even kids who rarely were sick in high school are suddenly battling illnesses in college. Why?
Why has my normally healthy kid been sick so much since she left for college?
It’s not hard to figure out why. Dorms are a petri dish of germs. Hundreds of kids living in close quarters all touching the same elevator buttons, handrails, restrooms facilities, and door handles. They share food and drinks, don’t get proper rest, likely don’t maintain proper and frequent hand washing, and probably don’t eat as nutritiously as they did at home. So, if one kid has the flu, sneezes on his hand, and touches all the aforementioned items in the dorm – a good percentage of the kids who come into contact with the germs will also get sick. Even in the cleanest of dorms, it’s impossible to maintain a level of disinfection in public areas adequate to prevent illness from spreading without diligent hand washing. It’s enough to make a germaphobe like me what to crawl into a hole and hide until spring.
What can be done to protect them from getting sick?
So, we know the why but what can be done to combat these conditions? The first thing I would recommend is making sure your student gets the flu vaccine as soon as it’s available. My daughter’s university was already reporting cases of flu in August! Many schools will offer the flu vaccine for free at the campus health center – you will need to check your health center’s website for this information. Alternatively, pharmacies like Walgreens and CVS now offer vaccines in their stores for walk-in patients. It’s a no-brainer and an easy precaution to take.
If you haven’t already done so, make sure your child has hand sanitizer in an easy to access area of their room, like their desk. My daughter will actually use hand sanitizer if she sees it available in stores and other locations so I’m hoping she would do the same if she saw it on her own or her friend’s desk. It’s a cheap precaution. Also, if your student had to bring his own bathroom supplies, make sure you’ve provided plenty of back up pump bottles of hand soap to replace as it gets used. Consider also sending paper towel for hand drying (now available in tissue like boxes) so that they are not wiping their hands on a dirty, shared cloth towel.
I had my daughter start taking a multi-vitamin daily. Figuring that she wasn’t eating a well-rounded, healthy diet, a vitamin was probably not a bad idea. She specifically asked me for Emergen-C. Claimed her roommate swore by it and I figured it couldn’t hurt.
Finally, the one thing I did that I think made the most difference was sending her an air purifier for her room. They spend so much time hanging out in there with lots of visitors. I chose this Germ Guardian for a few reasons. First, it has a 4.5-star rating on Amazon (over 6000 reviews). Second, because it was the least expensive, highly rated model that had a UV-C Air Sanitizer. This was the most important feature to me because it killed germs and bacteria. The others get out mold spores and allergens which is great, but I wanted one that also killed germs. I had Amazon send it to her directly and she said it was easy to set up. The size was perfect for her small dorm room and she said it was very quiet. It was $83.99 when I bought it but it was well worth the money.
I’ve received several emails from parents with suggestions that they swear help so I decided to share them. Thank you to those who wrote in.
Andrea H. from Denver emailed and said, “An air purifier is definitely good, but if the room isn’t clean to begin with, an air purifier won’t do anything for germs on surfaces.” She recommended disinfecting wipes. “These are good for college kids because it’s a one-step process. Just pull one out and wipe things down. I told my son doorknobs, his desk, and his bathroom.” I, personally, think my daughter would do a better job hitting areas well with Lysol disinfecting spray.
These are new to me and I can’t speak them personally but I love the name and, Debbie A. from Atlanta recommends Dr. Schnuffie’s Cold + Flu – Immune Support Boost. She says, “My sister teaches middle school and one of the parents turned her on to these. She swears by them.”
I would highly suggest you read a post I wrote a while back, Preparing For When Your Child Gets Sick at School. It gives great ideas for helping your student know where to go when they are sick, options for where to go on weekends or after hours when the campus health center is closed, and things to have on hand before you ever get sick. I think you’ll find the information very helpful.