So first up is that eponymous syndrome known as “Freshers’ Flu”. It’s now the second week of October, the weather is getting colder and l’m starting to see more of this. What is it? Why does it occur and perhaps more importantly, what can you do about it? If you already know all about the condition, feel free to skip to my “top tips” at the end of the article for how to deal with it.
Freshers flu is not usually a “flu” per se. I’ll go into the distinctions later. It’s a viral illness usually affecting the upper respiratory tract – that is the throat, ears and nose. Typical symptoms include a fever, sore throat, coughing, muscle aches and mild fatigue. It usually lasts for around a week and then clears up. From my observations, students in general seem prone to this because of several factors:
- The beginning of term brings students from all corners of the globe into close proximity to each other. Generally our immune systems are pretty robust for local germs but when we are interacting with others from outside the region, our immune systems have to stump up the challenge to different cough and cold viruses. It’s a normal part of the protective nature of our natural immunity.
- Freshers week and the start of university term in the U.K. is timed at the end of September just as the weather is getting colder and the chance of catching a virus or cold is more likely
- The start of Uni term is a Smorgasbord of new experiences and “stuff” to do. This is fun and part of the whole package of student life but late nights and copious beers (my apologies if I sound like your Mother!) are energy intensive and stress the body. When the body is run down and tired, it has temporarily less resources to fight cough and cold viruses that come it’s way.
What’s the difference between Flu and Freshers’ Flu?
And oldie but a goodie. Flu is a lot more severe and generally sufferers feel extremely weak and are unable to get out of bed. It has a lot of the same symptoms as Freshers Flu such as the cough and muscle aches but they are more intense. You can find out more information about Flu, (including when to contact your GP) here: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/flu/Pages/Introduction.aspx
Top tips for dealing with Freshers’ Flu
Some of these may seem like common sense – but sometimes common sense is the best medicine
Rest. A biggie. The body needs time to regroup and heal itself which it will usually do within a week. It’s usually not necessary to stop doing everything but get an early night, perhaps say “no” to that social request temporarily and give yourself time. If you feel overwhelmed with requests and responsibilities, delay making a decision overnight, sleep on it and give your answer in the morning.
- Drink plenty of water and eat small nutritious meals. The brain and body are working hard to heal you and they need good quality nutrition to do this.
- Simple painkillers such as paracetamol can help to ease symptoms of a sore throat and muscle aches. See the pharmacist for advice. Antibiotics are not helpful for viral infections.
- We’d recommend contacting the GP for advice if you have any other chronic health condition such as asthma or diabetes or take regular medication for any other chronic condition. This is because viral infections can affect other chronic health conditions in some cases. More information can be found here: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Respiratory-tract-infection/Pages/Introduction.aspx. We would expect symptoms of Freshers’ flu to clear within the week with the above measures and so please contact your GP for advice if your symptoms do not seem to be abating within this time period.
- Please seek medical advice urgently if you experience a severe headache, a fever of over 37.5 or a blotchy rash that doesn’t fade with pressure as these can be symptoms of meningitis. More information can be found here: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/meningitis/pages/introduction.aspx
- Students going to university or college for the first time (up to the age of 25) are eligible for the Men ACWY vaccine which protects against meningitis W. This is free and can be obtained from your GP http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vaccinations/pages/men-acwy-vaccine.aspx
- Finally stay in contact with friends and family and ask for help if you feel overwhelmed or scared. We see many students who are scared because they are feeling unwell and away from Mum and Dad and are unsure what to do. This is a normal reaction. Chat to your housemates and let them help you out, perhaps by fixing you a snack or lending a listening ear. Speak to your parents. It may helpful to visit them for the weekend and get a bit of TLC. We are not supposed to live in isolation and so reach out!
I’d love to know what you think of this blog as this is a new venture for me (and a very exciting one at that). If you’d like me write on a particular topic, please do let me know.
The blog is designed for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace professional, personalised advice from your doctor. Please, if you feel ill and are unsure or concerned, seek advice from a qualified health professional which could be your GP or Accident or Emergency if you have a life threatening medical problem. If you unsure, NHS 111 – http://www.nhs.uk/NHSEngland/AboutNHSservices/Emergencyandurgentcareservices/Pages/NHS-111.aspx can help you decide.