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27 College Health Tips They Won't Teach You At Orientation

Spoiler alert: it's probably mono.

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But the hectic college lifestyle and abundance of germs on campus means that students get sick... a lot.

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It's easy to get sick in college for several reasons:

* Infectious diseases tend to spread where large groups are clustered together — like in dorms, libraries, lecture halls, gyms, and frat houses. Everything from a head cold and strep throat to serious bugs like norovirus and meningitis flourish among college students.

* And communal living means that most students will spend all four years sharing bathrooms, bedrooms, or living spaces with friends or strangers.

* Also, college can be a stressful shitshow. Taking care of yourself can often go overlooked, so students tend to have a lowered resistance when it comes to infections.

So we asked experts to tell us how college students can avoid getting sick and stay healthy all year long.

BuzzFeed Health spoke to Dr. Pritish Tosh, infectious disease specialist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and germ expert Kelly Reynolds, PhD, director of environmental health sciences at the University of Arizona, about how college students can stay healthy when the odds (and germs) are against them.

1. Don't share cups at parties.

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It's basically like taking a sip of all the germs, bacteria, and viruses in the other person's mouth. Sharing cups or bottles is a quick and easy way to expose yourself to a number of things, from cold sores to mononucleosis (mono).

Mono is usually called the kissing disease because it's transmitted through saliva, but you can also get it from sharing drinks, so it spreads like wildfire on college campuses. It can cause fever, fatigue, spleen issues, and a sore throat lasting up to six weeks, which is a very long time to be out of commission in college.

So just don't share cups. Even during beer pong. It will not destroy your skill or credibility to take a drink out of your own damn cup or can, and not the one that grimy pong ball landed in.

2. If you're prescribed antibiotics, don't drink on them.

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Antibiotics are used to kill the bacteria causing an infection in your body. So being prescribed them typically means you're fighting something off — in which case, you probably shouldn't be drinking anyway. Still, you're probably going to be tempted at some point because... it's college.

There are few good reasons why you really shouldn't mix the two. Alcohol interacts with certain antibiotics, making them less effective or causing harmful side effects like nausea or liver problems. Even if there's no interaction, alcohol still dehydrates your body and reduces your energy so it takes you longer to recover from the infection that made you sick in the first place.

3. And always finish the full course of antibiotics.

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We get it: Once you start feeling better, it can be tempting to stop taking the prescription, especially if the antibiotics are making your stomach feel a little off. But if you don't finish the entire course of antibiotics or if you skip doses, this can allow the bacteria to keep breeding or even mutate into an antibiotic-resistant strain, says Reynolds. Must we bring up drug-resistant gonorrhea?

4. Maybe don't toss your backpack on your bed or pillow.

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Your backpack goes everywhere with you — classes, libraries, dining halls, labs, bathroom floors, bars, etc. The bottom of it is probably covered in pathogens and fecal matter, says Reynolds. These germs won't make you sick if you're just carrying the backpack, but they might if they get near your face or mouth.

So keep it off your bed, and hang it on your chair or coatrack, says Reynolds. And maybe give it a quick spray with Lysol or wash it in high heat when you're home for break to zap the germs.

5. Make yourself a first-aid kit stocked with all the essentials.

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There's nothing worse than making an emergency trip to the drugstore when you're already sick. So make your own first-aid kit and you'll always be prepared.

Fill it with stuff like ibuprofen, decongestants, allergy meds, antibiotic ointments, Pepto, cough drops — and all the other medicines you usually rely on when you're sick. A thermometer couldn't hurt, too. Here's a great sample kit for college students to get you stared.

6. Do not go to class if you're sick.

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We know. WE KNOW. It feels like you can't miss class or you will fail, but literally no one wants you there if you're legitimately sick. "You need to isolate yourself so you don't get other people sick and help the virus spread around campus," says Tosh. Consider it good karma for the final. Plus, you'll feel better faster if you get some rest and medication when you really need it.

It helps to learn your all professors' sick-day policies ahead of time so you'll know if you need a note from the campus nurse to avoid losing out on notes or participation points. In some cases you might be able to watch the lecture online or schedule virtual office hours with the professor or TA.

7. And definitely don't go out and drink while you're sick either.

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Yes, it's a bummer to miss parties and social events because you're sick — but staying out late and drinking is only going to waste your energy and make it harder for your body to recover, says Tosh. Plus, your friends will hate you if you get them sick.

If you truly can't miss something, the experts suggest that you avoid drinking, missing sleep, or sharing any personal items (like drinks or lip balm).

8. Be really stingy with toiletries and makeup.

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No, roommate, you cannot borrow our eyeliner or deodorant. Any item that comes into direct contact with your skin or bodily fluids can transfer germs or viruses if other people use it — towels, loofahs, and toothbushes are great examples. "Another thing you should never share is razors, because they can transmit warts or even blood-borne pathogens like HIV," Reynolds says.

And it doesn't matter if neither of you is actually sick. "Every person carries different bacteria on their skin which might not harm that person, but it can infect other people who get exposed through shared items," says Reynolds.

Makeup also harbors bacteria that can cause skin infections or acne, Reynolds says. So you might end up sharing staphylococcus bacteria or pink eye along with that face brush or mascara wand. It's best to keep your makeup to yourself or sanitize it with alcohol if you have to lend it out.

9. Maybe don't eat food that's been sitting out or sitting in your mini-fridge for too long.

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When you're a hungry and broke college student, it's hard to say no to free pizza even if it's been sitting out in the common area for five hours. But if you aren't careful with old food or leftovers, you could end up with a nasty stomach bug, Tosh says.

When food is left out at room temperature for more than two hours, it becomes the perfect temperature for toxin-producing bacteria to grow, which can cause food poisoning and diarrhea, says Reynolds.

Students should avoid eating any prepared food (especially dairy) that's been sitting out for more than a two hours, says Tosh. Examples include that sour cream dip left out from a football game, cheesy pizza, or sandwiches slathered in mayo (which contains raw egg). And you should probably throw out those dining hall leftovers in your mini-fridge after four days, because those can grow bacteria such as listeria, says Reynolds.

10. And don't eat in communal spaces that aren't meant for eating — like libraries or study areas.

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It might sound germaphobic, but these surfaces are some of the most contaminated places on campus, says Tosh. If a table isn't intended for eating, chances are it isn't regularly sanitized by cleaning staff like the tables in the dining hall. There could've been a pile of dirty tissues from someone with a nasty cold on the same desk hours before you sit down to eat a sandwich while you study.

So break for lunch in the dining hall, or at least bring some hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes to the study lounge before eating there.

11. Sanitize equipment before and after using it at your campus gym.

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If there's a cold or flu going around campus, there's a good chance you'll pick it up at the gym. That's because so many students are shedding their germs and sweat there. Gyms are also breeding grounds for bacteria such as methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which can cause fatal skin infections.

The best way to protect yourself from gym germs is to wipe down any piece of equipment before and after you use it with a disinfectant wipe or spray. If your gym doesn't have these supplies, ask facilities to provide them or bring your own to-go pack of disinfectant wipes. And don't forget to wash your hands with soap and water after your workout.

12. Wash your sheets at least every two weeks, especially if you've been sick.

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Yeah, it sucks to visit the campus laundry room that often, but it's important. Not only do dirty sheets and pillowcases start to stink, says Tosh, but they hold bacteria which can make you sick or cause acne and skin infections.

"Sheets have been shown to carry staphylococcus aureus (staph), which can cause a bad infection if it gets into open wounds, and streptococcus pneumoniae (strep) which can cause recurrent strep throat infections even after you get better," Reynolds says. Another big risk with dirty sheets is pink eye, because it's incredibly contagious and the bacteria can live on your pillowcases for weeks.

The experts suggest washing your sheets every two weeks on a high-heat wash and dry cycle to kill all the bacteria.

13. Actually clean your dorm room.

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And we aren't just talking about picking dirty laundry up off the floor and making your bed. You should try to sweep, vacuum, dust, and wipe down all the surfaces at least once a month.

This can remove germs as well as dust and allergens that can worsen allergies or respiratory issues like asthma, says Reynolds.

14. Watch out for mold and mildew in your living space.

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Mold and mildew are types of fungi that can grow indoors where it's damp or humid — so they love the corners of a tiny dorm or bedroom. "Mold can be visible and show up as dark blotches on the walls or you just smell it," says Reynolds.

Mold isn't just a sign that you haven't cleaned — the microscopic fungal spores can enter your body when you breath. "Mold can cause allergies and exacerbate asthma, or make it harder to recover from a respiratory illness," says Reynolds.

So if you see mold, don't ignore it. Let your facilities managers or landlord know immediately. If you want to tackle the mold on your own, Reynolds suggests spraying a bleach-based disinfectant and letting it sit for at least ten minutes. You should also minimize moisture in your room and use windows or fans to get proper ventilation.

15. Wash your towels after three uses and make sure they actually dry.

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Again, annoying but important. Every time you use a towel, it picks up bacteria from your skin which then multiply as the towel sits, because germs love damp environments. These germs can range from harmless bacteria to dangerous pathogens like staph, MRSA, and E. coli from trace fecal matter. And using that bacteria-filled towel can cause acne or nasty infection.

"If you dry off after a shower with a dirty towel, you might as well not be showering because you'll get dirty again," says Tosh. The experts recommend washing your towels after every 3 uses, and using a high-heat wash and dry cycle to kill germs.

Towels can also grow mildew if they remain damp for too long, like when they're all piled on one hook or sitting at the bottom of your hamper. Do the best you can to dry them, whether that means hanging each towel on separate hooks or turning a fan on so they dry faster, says Reynolds. Over-the-door towel racks like this one are great because they're cheap and easy to install.

16. Wear shower shoes in communal bathrooms to avoid fungal infections.

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The floors in communal bathrooms and showers can transmit the fungus which causes athlete's foot and warts, Reynolds says. Foot fungus isn't as bad as the other viruses we've talked about, but it can progress to the point where it's super uncomfortable and you have to see a doctor for prescription treatment. "You can avoid fungal infections by always wearing shower shoes or flip flops which protect your feet," says Reynolds.

Check out some popular shower shoe options on Amazon.

17. Wash or sanitize your hands often — but especially before eating.

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Your hands pick up the germs from every surface you touch — every door handle, sink faucet, and elevator button — and these germs accumulate if you don't wash your hands.

When you touch your face or eat with your hands, those germs end up in your mouth and then your bloodstream, which can make you sick. Norovirus, the most common cause of adult diarrhea in the US, is almost always linked to bad hand-washing habits.

So make sure to lather up with soap and water — for as long as it takes you to sing "happy birthday" — every time you use the bathroom and before you eat. Or grab some hand sanitizer if there's no sink.

18. Keep disinfectant wipes in your room to sanitize all the things.

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Certain surfaces will carry more pathogens than others — like doorknobs, light switches, and tables or desks. And If anyone came into your room who recently had a stomach bug, was sick, or just didn't wash their hands after using the bathroom, they probably touched those surfaces.

So keep a container of these around and use them to sanitize stuff at least once a week.

19. Disinfect your laptop, keyboard, and trackpad or mouse every few weeks.

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Your hands are a primary vehicle for germ transmission. As you touch contaminated surfaces throughout the day, germs build up all over your hands and fingers — which go right onto your computer when you use it. "Keyboards and mouses are major sites for transmitting cold and flu viruses," says Reynolds.

So disinfect your laptop or computer keyboard, trackpad, and mouse every few weeks (maybe once a week during flu season), says Tosh. Apple suggests using a disinfectant wipe followed by a lint-free cloth. Find more tips on how to clean your gadgets here.

20. Sanitize your cellphone once a week using a screen-safe solution, especially during flu season.

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Most college students (and most people in general) are glued to their phones. But when you bring your phone everywhere, including public bathrooms, it picks up a ton of germs. Studies have shown that most phones test positive for potential disease-causing microbes and fecal matter (so yeah, poop), says Reynolds. And because you’re constantly touching your phone, those germs can get transferred right back to your hands and face.

TL;DR — your cellphone is a mobile germ carrier.

Luckily, sanitizing the phone and the case once every week can really reduce your risk of catching something from it. But disinfectant wipes are actually too abrasive and they can damage a smartphone's coating. Instead, wipe down your phone with a lint-free cloth that's damped with a mixture of half isopropyl alcohol and half bottled water. Find out more about sanitizing your phone here.

21. Be safe when ~hooking up~ with other people.

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We aren't only talking about sex, either. Simply kissing someone can transmit illnesses like mono, strep throat, and bacterial meningitis. So maybe don't swap spit with someone if they are visibly ill or you know they've been sick in the last week, because they could still be contagious.

It's also important to protect yourself against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). According to the CDC, over half of the 20 million STI cases diagnosed each year are in adults between the ages of 15 and 24, so college-age students are definitely at risk. You can protect against STIs by using male or female latex condoms properly.

If you experience any STI symptoms such as burning, itching, or lesions on the genital area (just to name a few), get tested. Most college health clinics offer free STI testing, including rapid HIV tests. Find out more about getting tested here.

22. Maybe don't hang out with a friend or partner if they're sick.

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Feel free to bring your sick friend soup, a get-well card, or the notes from lecture they missed — and then leave. Just as you should isolate yourself from healthy people when you're sick and contagious, says Tosh, you should also avoid sick people if you're healthy.

Close contact, hugging, or even sitting next to someone as they have a couhhing fit can transmit viruses like the flu or strep throat, says Reynolds.

23. Get all of your vaccines before starting classes.

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"Everyone should have their mumps, rubella, pertussis, and other childhood vaccines if they don't already, but the most important one for college is meningitis," says Tosh.

Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord — usually from an infection. The viral type isn't as serious, but bacterial meningitis can be fatal, and it's spread through saliva — usually during kissing or coughing. It flourishes in community settings, so campus outbreaks are an issue.

Both male and female college students can also benefit from the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine — three shots given over six months. It protects against strains of HPV which can cause cervical cancer in women, and penile or anal cancers in men. "You should start your catch-up HPV vaccines by freshman year if you didn't get them during the recommended teenage years," says Tosh.

You can check here to see which vaccines (or boosters) are recommended for you.

24. And get your annual flu shot before flu season hits campus.

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"The flu spreads rapidly among college students because of the communal nature of campus — it's like a giant petri dish," says Tosh. And getting the flu can mean missing an entire week of classes, which really sets you behind.

Flu season typically spans from December to March in the US, but it can start as early as October and end as late as May. So getting your shot around back-to-school time isn't a bad idea.

The shot gives you a tiny dose of the virus, which lets your body build immunity so you don't get sick when you're exposed to the actual flu. Most colleges offer flu shots on campus, but you can also get one at participating pharmacies, like CVS or Walgreens. Young, healthy adults can really benefit from the vaccine, says Tosh. So don't forget it!

25. Try to eat a nutritious diet and drink tons of water.

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Drinking plenty of water will keep your body hydrated and working properly — plus, it's easy and free. Eating healthy in college is a little more difficult, but the experts agree that getting enough vitamins and minerals from whole foods is necessary to keep your body functioning and your immune system strong.

We promise it's possible even if you're the laziest or busiest student ever. Here are some great tips from real college students who made it work.

26. Get enough sleep.

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Young adults should be getting between seven to nine hours of sleep per night, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Most college students don't get nearly that much and frequently report daytime sleepiness or exhaustion. You can blame all-night cramming (or raging) for that.

But sleep deprivation screws with your immune response, making you vulnerable to microbial infections and viruses, says Tosh. So do what you can with whatever time you have and get some sleep. You can find some tips here.

27. Take care of yourself mentally and emotionally, too.

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Getting sick all the time can definitely impact your psychological wellbeing, but it also goes the other way around. Mental illness can have physical symptoms like fatigue, sleep problems, loss of appetite, and more.

Not to mention, college can be a really overwhelming and stressful time. If you're struggling with anxiety or depression, it might be a good idea to seek help from a professional. Most colleges have counseling resources or free therapy services.

Everyone is unique, so your mental wellness routine may look completely different from other people's. Maybe you need to journal every night or go on a run outside or watch your favorite show with a clay face mask on or see a therapist every other week. Whatever helps you feel better, keep doing it. We promise it's possible to take care of your mental and emotional health, even with a crazy college schedule. Here are some tips to get your started.

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