Off to university this year? We know that excitement all too well. You’re finally an independent young adult, moving away from home to study your favourite subject whilst having the care-free time of your young life. Happy days, right?! Well, you’re not wrong, but we can bet you probably haven’t considered the risks of catching flu whilst there.
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What is Fresher’s Flu?
It’s important that you are informed of the common illnesses contracted by new university students, not only because you don’t want to get ill and miss out on all the fun whilst your mates go to that toga party without you, but also because ‘common illness’ mistakenly implies they are less serious, which is not the case. Just because fresher’s flu is common among the university community, does not mean it can’t cause serious effects to the lives of young students.
Fresher’s flu is the term commonly used for a wide range of illnesses new students catch during the start of university. You don’t need to be studying medicine to work out that not looking after yourself will increase your chances of falling ill.
The reason fresher’s flu is so common is because not only are you being exposed to new strains of illnesses that are foreign to your body’s immune system, but most students start university at the beginning of autumn, when the number of illnesses tend to increase anyway. That combined with alcohol, late nights and meeting people from all over the UK (and the world in some cases) whilst getting very little sleep, its unsurprising that you’d be left feeling a little more than hungover. And no, the antibacterial properties of alcohol will not keep you healthy, nice try though!
How can I avoid Fresher’s Flu?
As previously mentioned, looking after yourself will play a big role in avoiding the sore throat, heavy cough and high temperatures associated with fresher’s flu. But understandably, a lot of student’s will be set on getting involved, so here’s what to do to reduce your risk of infection:
Sleep. This might seem obvious but can be easier said than done if you’re burning the candle at both ends by attending lectures and participating in nights out. During sleep your body releases proteins which reduce inflammation and infection, so sleep depravation results in your body producing less of these. Eight hours of quality sleep is generally recommended.
Cleanliness. Regularly and thoroughly washing your hands, will help to cut down on risk of infection. Hands play a huge part in the transmission of germs. Make sure you clean your hands thoroughly every time you use the toilet and before eating. Using hand sanitisers is a good idea. Also, avoid rubbing your eyes or touching your mouth/nose area as this is how many germs enter your body.
Diet. However much you want it to, a diet of kebabs and alcohol can only get you so far. Over 70% of your immune system is in your gut, so what you eat plays a large part in your general health. Fruit and veg will provide you will the range of vitamins that your body needs to keep you healthy.
What else should you look out for?
Whilst all that fun is bound to leave you feeling pretty rubbish, there is a darker side to fresher’s flu which has the potential to be life threatening.
Meningitis is often mistaken for fresher’s flu due to its flu-like symptoms, and is particularly serious, with a fatality rate of 1 in 10. The chances of catching Meningitis are increased dramatically at the start of university.
Susette Worgan-Brown, information and Projects Co-ordinator at Meningitis Now, stated:
“While fresher’s flu is common, students shouldn’t forget that while rare, they are also at increased risk from bacteria that can cause meningitis and septicemia (blood poisoning), which can kill within hours.
For those who survive, many are left with life-changing after-effects such as hearing loss, brain damage and limb loss.
Identifying meningitis is not always easy. Early symptoms such as fever, headache, vomiting and muscle pain can be missed or mistaken for something else, including flu or a hangover.
Look out for each other – if a friend is unwell, check up on them regularly. Someone with meningitis or septicemia can get a lot worse very quickly and need urgent medical attention”
Fresher’s Flu should be taken seriously – Charlotte’s Story
The reality is that no one ever thinks it will happen to them, but for 19-year-old Charlotte Hannibal from Nottinghamshire, it is a very different story.
After one of many house parties during fresher’s week at her new university, doctors were battling to save Charlotte’s life after she contracted a toxic virus which resulted in her losing both legs and five fingers. Miss Hannibal, who is still recovering from her ordeal, said:
“I’ve always been a normal healthy person – I can’t believe how much my life has changed in a year. I was going out at least once a week after starting university and I was having the time of my life, I never thought something like this could happen to me.
The Saturday before I fell poorly I’d been at a house party with my flat mates, on the Monday I left my lectures early as I had a sore throat and flu-like symptoms – I thought it was fresher’s flu.” Find out more about Charlottes story.
So, hopefully this blog has made you think just a bit more about the effects of university life and the potential assault on your body. Just a few hygiene tweaks can mean the difference between a healthy and happy experience or an unpleasant struggle to get through the day!