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Care for Respiratory Viruses

Learn how to care for a variety of respiratory illnesses, including COVID, the flu, and the common cold.

What is a respiratory virus and what can I expect?

The common cold, influenza, and COVID-19 are all caused by respiratory viruses. They usually start with symptoms such as a sore throat and runny nose followed by coughing and sneezing.

Because these illnesses are caused by viruses, antibiotics will not help you recover from them. The best way to help yourself recover is to get lots of rest, drink plenty of fluids, and avoid smoking and second-hand smoke exposure. See below to find more specific information about how to manage symptoms, when to stay home, and when to see your healthcare provider.

Stay-at-home Guidelines, Testing, and Return to Activity

    • Wear a well-fitting mask and avoid contact with others.
    • Stay home from normal activities, including class, if you have had either in the last 24 hours:
      • A fever greater than 100.4° F
      • Severe symptoms of a respiratory illness
    • If you are concerned, discuss your symptoms with Student Health or your healthcare provider, especially if you have medical conditions that put you at risk for more serious illness.
    • The decision to take a COVID test can be made on an individual basis. A positive or negative test will not change illness recommendations. Individuals who are at increased risk for complications from COVID-19 may wish to test if it will impact treatment decisions.
    • Practice good hygiene measures, get lots of rest, stay well hydrated and care for your symptoms using our tips for symptom management below.
    • You may pick up your meals to go at IDX by filling out the Sick Meal Request Form.
    • If you have any questions or concerns about your health, please contact the Student Health Center at (802) 860-2711 or email
  • You may return to normal activities when, for at least 24 hours, both are true:

    • Your symptoms have greatly improved, and
    • You have not had a fever (and are not using fever-reducing medication).

    Continue these precautions for 5 days after returning to normal activities:

    • Wear a well-fitting mask and avoid prolonged contact with others.
    • Practice good hygiene: wash your hands often and use hand sanitizer, cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, and disinfect personal spaces.
    • Enjoy fresh air, take walks outside, and maintain good air circulation in your room.
    • If you develop symptoms or a fever again: stay home until your symptoms are improving overall, and you are fever-free for 24 hours (without the use of fever-reducing medications).
    • Contact your professors if missing classes, and together create a plan to make up for missed class work.

Treating Symptoms at Home

    • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water.
    • Get plenty of rest/sleep. Resting is vital to your body’s healing process.
    • Stay hydrated. Choosing water or sports drinks can help you stay hydrated while alcohol, coffee, or any caffeinated drinks may contribute to dehydration.
    • Sipping on warm liquids such as soup or brewed tea with honey; ice chips, lozenges, or a saltwater gargle (1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of salt dissolved in an 8-ounce glass of warm water) may help soothe a sore throat.
    • Using a humidifier or cool mist vaporizer to add moisture to the air can be soothing.
    • Taking OTC pain relievers, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve) can help reduce the pain associated with a sore throat.
    • Sucking on a cough drop will help keep your throat moist and relieve irritation.
    • Consider cough medicine. It may be wise to consult a health care provider or pharmacist if you’re not sure which one to choose. A product containing dextromethorphan (Robitussin) will help suppress a cough. Guaifenesin (Mucinex) is an ingredient that helps to thin mucus, making it easier to cough up and relieve congestion.
    • Place a warm compress over the nose and forehead to relieve sinus pressure.
    • Use saline nasal spray to help unclog a “stuffy” nose.
    • Breathing in steam for 10 to 20 minutes several times a day may also relieve congestion.
    • Taking an OTC fever reducer or pain reliever medicine, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen can help to reduce the pain associated with headaches, body aches, and prevent a fever.

When should I seek medical care?

    • A temperature higher than 100.4°F (38°C)
    • Symptoms that last more than 10 days
    • Symptoms that worsen after starting to improve
    • Symptoms that are severe such as chest pain or shortness of breath
    • Any questions or concerns about your symptoms

    Refer to our after hours instructions if you need medical attention when the Health Center is closed

Sick Meal Request Form

Please request your meals to-go if you are feeling sick.

You may send a friend to pick up your meals, or pick it up yourself. You will need to complete a new sick meal request form each day you are sick. Please pick up your meals at the times indicated on the order form by checking in at the front kiosk in the IDX Dining Hall, and then waiting out in the atrium with your mask on. You are also welcome to order food to-go from EATS.

Class Absences

Students in class working on laptops smiling

Illness and injury may occasionally impact a student’s ability to attend class or to complete assignments. Students in this situation are urged to notify their instructors immediately when an illness or injury prevents them from attending a class or completing work. The Health Center does not provide written medical excuses for class absences. Students may request documentation to verify the date and time they were seen at the Health Center, but no further information will be provided. Students are responsible for making up all missed work.

This approach allows for students, as young adults, to advocate for themselves and take responsibility for their health and academics. This also encourages instructors to communicate directly with students if concerns arise.

Caring for Respiratory Illness

Student Health Center

Ground Level of Whiting Hall
203 S. Willard Street
Burlington, VT 05401
Summer months: Closed
Academic year:
Monday-Friday, 8:30 AM–4:30 PM
Closed daily from 12:00–1:00 PM