Good “Cold Etiquette” Crucial to Staying Healthy

During the cold winter months, it can seem that the Andover community is constantly plagued by sniffles and coughs. Students can help keep healthy in the winter by exercising, eating right, sleeping, hand washing and managing stress, according to Medical Director and School Physician Dr. Richard Keller. However, Keller said, “Some [students] just don’t bother. They’re busy and tend to ignore things that add extra time to their day.” Kathryn Birecki, Athletic Trainer, said, “My biggest piece of advice for staying healthy in the winter is: wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands.” Viruses live and breed on surfaces such as door handles, but germs are not airborne, according to Keller. “Aside [from a student] coughing or sneezing in your face,” said Keller, “Being in the same room with someone who is sick with a cold virus won’t get you sick.” Keller stressed the importance of good “cold etiquette”: that is, doing things like covering your mouth and throwing away dirty Kleenexes to prevent the spread of head colds. One of the reasons people tend to get sick more easily in the winter is the close, contained quarters that people tend to remain in for longer than during the spring and summer. “Crack your window when you’re in your room,” Birecki said. “The stale, stagnant air isn’t good; you need circulation. Then close it when you go to classes so all the hot air doesn’t go out.” Keller added that immune systems may be more vulnerable due to lack of exercise in the winter or depression from the seasonal darkness. Some students are making plans to avoid getting sick. Peter Ly ’09 said, “[This winter] I’m going to try to stay warm, [and] to eat healthy. Drink a lot of water.” Many students rely on familiar cold supplements, such as Airborne or Emergen-C. Tavie Abell ’10 said, “I have Emergen-C…Also, I eat half a grapefruit a day. And whenever I feel myself getting sick, I cut a lemon, squeeze out the juice and drink it, and it stops whatever I’m coming down with.” However, according to Keller, there is no proof that taking vitamin C, garlic, zinc or any other popular natural remedies will prevent sickness. “Emergen-C and Airborne make a lot of money, but they don’t actually work,” Keller said. “The only thing that will prevent you from getting sick is either not being exposed to the virus or making sure your immune system is healthy in case you do get exposed.” Some of the most effective ways to prevent sickness are frequent hand washing and sanitizing. Keller also recommends taking a multivitamin and getting a flu vaccine every year. According to Keller, stress is also detrimental to students’ health. “Stress compromises the immune system,” Keller said. “If you’re totally stressed out, you’re more prone to getting sick. If kids could lead a more balanced life in terms of their stress level and sleep, they would do themselves a great favor in staying healthy.” In response to Keller’s report on the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) study, which stated that germs are easily transmitted on computer keyboards, Phillips Academy is installing hand sanitizers in some locations with public computers. Keller offered a last piece of advice: don’t be too friendly this winter. “If there was one custom I would do away with, it would be shaking hands,” Keller said. “Lots of germs are transferred that way. Nothing is worse than going to a reception where you’re meeting a lot of people in the winter months.”