Freshers’ Flu: Causes, Symptoms, Cures and Prevention

Feb 3, 2021

The miracle guide to staying healthy and ensuring that Freshers’ Flu becomes the flu that flew too close to the sun

The world has had enough of the flu, thank you very much. Mercifully, vaccines for Covid 19 are beginning to proliferate the world over. Humanity holds its breath.

However, there is still one illness that lurks in the shadows; a phantom menace that strikes at literally the most vulnerable among us: drunk first-year pleasure-seekers.

Fear not: with this guide, Freshers’ flu has finally bitten off more than it can chew. 

What is Fresher’s Flu?

Staffordshire University

First, let’s define our terms. Freshers’ Flu isn’t strictly speaking a flu. It refers to a battery of illnesses that commonly accompany the large gatherings of people in Freshers’ Week. It could be a flu, but it is much more likely to be a cold. 

In fact, seasonal influenza doesn’t tend to spread around the UK until December, further suggesting that a simple cold virus will be the culprit.

The reason it is colloquially known as the Freshers’ Flu is that it rolls pleasantly off the tongue. 

Like the common cold, the Freshers’ Flu is a virus that works by attacking the immune system. Thus, its very close association with Freshers’ week is due to the fact that Freshers’ Week is essentially one long party that recalls the worst excesses of a Bacchanalian orgy:

This is the week in which immune systems take a serious pounding. 

Yep, that’s right: all of those naughty things you’ve been longing to do are precisely the things that will attack your immune system and infect you with Freshers’ Flu.

Read on, young fresher, to discover how to have your fun and get away with it. 

Causes

Socialising 

In your first year of university, you’re flung together with new people from all over the world. 

New houses, new friends, new ways to alter your perception.

Sharing Ubers to the sweaty dancefloors of the clubs, all with one intention. 

Swapping drinks and stories and things too ungodly to mention. 

Sounds good, right? 

Well, yes. But it comes with a risk. All of those fun things are being done with people from all over the UK and the planet. 

Different viruses have different prevalence from country to country, so a student from Asia or America might bring something over that isn’t common in the UK, to which, therefore, you might not be immune. 

Moreover, we now know that even apparently symptomless organisms are carrying an abundance of viruses, bacteria and fungi

Normally, this wouldn’t be such a problem. However, Freshers’ Week and first year are times of extremely high student density, where germs jump freely hither and thither.

The closer you are to another student, the more likely it is you’ll catch whatever they’re carrying.

Alcohol 

Unfortunately, alcohol is most certainly detrimental to your immune system. 

In the delirium of the first few weeks of the academic year, concern for the quantity and quality of alcohol tends to go out the window. Cheap alcohol, such as large two-litre bottles of cider, are firm fresher favourites. 

As well as compromising the immune system, such alcohol will lead to a terrible hangover, which can exacerbate feelings of illness, and lead to stress and worry. 

Terrible Food

As I’m sure you’ve guessed, fast food doesn’t win any prizes when it comes to staying healthy. When combined with alcohol, things can get ugly. 

The bad news is that the first thing we think of after a night of indulgence is greasy food, and there has never been greasy food in such abundance. Deliveroo, UberEats and many other platforms mean that artery-clogging hangover cures are clicks away. 

Fortunately, later on in this article, I provide you with a way around this. 

Sleep Deprivation 

Sleep is crucial to a healthy immune system. This is beyond doubt. Also beyond doubt is the fact that during Freshers’ Week and the rest of your first year at university, you are extremely likely to pursue activities and develop habits that ensure you don’t get your hours of sleep.

These include:

  • Excessive alcohol consumption 
  • Excessive unhealthy eating
  • Constant late nights
  • Lack of sleep hygiene
  • Anxiety 

Sadly, this last one is all too common, especially among first-year students. I will explore some remedies for this terrible affliction later in this article. 

The point is that all of these habits and activities together can drastically reduce both the quantity and quality of your sleep, which compromises your immune system, leaving you more vulnerable to those pesky germs, viruses and bacteria I mentioned earlier. 

Photo by Mauricio Mascaro from Pexels 

2. Symptoms 

Fever 

If you have a high temperature, then the chances are that you have been unfortunate enough to catch a flu virus. In rare cases, a fever can result from a common cold, but they are less potent. Find a reliable thermometer to check if you are running a temperature. 

Cough and sore throat 

These are both symptoms of a cold and flu. Though, again, they will be less horrid in the case of a common cold. 

Sneezing 

This one is very common with common colds, and less so with flu.

Headache 

A flu headache can be a horrifying experience. They are less likely to accompany colds. 

Tiredness and weakness 

Tiredness is a common symptom of both a bad cold and the flu.

As you can see, many of these symptoms are shared by the common cold and the flu. 

Freshers’ Flu or Covid 19

The elephant in the room is, of course, Covid 19. Covid also shares many of these symptoms, and it can be hard to tell which of the three has you in its talons. 

It goes without saying that if you detect any of these symptoms, a covid test should be your main priority, along with self-isolation if required. 

Brighton Students’ Union has a very handy chart comparing the symptoms of Covid, a cold, the flu and allergies. 

What follows is a list of classic cures, with many of which you’ll be familiar. 

However, pay attention: I’ve included a few of my own personal tips for prevention. I have learned these the hard way. Believe me, they work. 

3. Cures and Prevention

Sanitise, sanitise, sanitise. (Sanitise).

Ok, this might be more of a preventative measure. However, washing your hands becomes especially important once you begin to detect symptoms, to ensure you don’t spread your wretched disease around unsuspecting peers. 

By this point, I hope that anti-bacterial and/or anti-viral hand gel is your constant companion. Any touch of a foreign object should warrant a quick squirt. When you return home, immediately wash your hands. 

If this sounds puritanical, it shouldn’t: as NetDoctor states, if someone has a virus, anything they touch could become infected. Thus, in shared accommodation, it pays to be on your guard. 

Steam 

This one may sound strange, but it is extremely useful for keeping the airways clean and healthy, and the respiratory tract free from infection. 

Actors and singers steam constantly to ensure they maintain pristine respiratory tracts and avoid sore throats. 

Unsure how to steam? The folks at Healthline helpfully explore the process and the benefits. 

Eat Healthily 

Pretty obvious one, this. It is most important as a preventative measure; that is, before you fall ill. 

At the very least, try and eat some greens each day. I’d recommend going beyond that, and having a decent helping of vegetables with lunch and dinner. Variety is king here. Mix it up! Broccoli for lunch, spinach and kale for supper, for example. 

Three Fantastic Tips, Tried and Tested by me

  1. Before you go out in the evening for a night of debauchery, do the following things:
  • Cook a vast dish of comfort food, for example spaghetti bolognese. This doesn’t have to be the healthiest, just as long as it’s healthier than a takeaway 
  • Stick some roasting vegetables in a baking tin. Douse and sprinkle liberally with extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper
  • Hey presto: a healthy, tasty hangover meal within arm’s reach. This will save your wallet and your health from the temptations of the takeaway

If you have a good blender, throw the following ingredients in:

  • A whole orange 
  • A whole apple
  • A large handful of spinach
  • One whole chopped carrot 
  • A small amount of ginger, chopped finely 
  • Three ice cubes
  • A splash or two of milk 

Blend them thoroughly for about 20-25 seconds. You now have an extremely tasty method of preserving your immune system, packed with fruit and veg. 

 Always have a good stock of chicken broth 

Chicken broth’s curative properties are legendary. It is a cheap and extremely tasty method of boosting your immune system, as well as soothing your morning after. 

It takes a bit of planning, so do prepare in good time!

Here is a fantastic healthy recipe. 

Hannah Gladstone

Don’t Drink Too Much 

You must stay hydrated. A fantastic rule of thumb is to drink a pint of water for every alcoholic drink you consume in an evening. This works, trust me. 

Another great idea is to stop drinking at least an hour or two prior to going to bed. This will prevent your head from spinning as soon as you hit the pillow, and it will mitigate the damage to your sleep, which in turn will minimise the damage to your immune system. 

Photo by Abet Llacer from Pexels

4. Anxiety 

This is such a prevalent disease these days that I think it is worth devoting a section to it. 

Anxiety is incredibly common among young people. In fact, instead of asking why someone has anxiety, the more interesting question today might be why someone doesn’t.

The first year of university is an incredibly anxious time. For most, it is the first time away from home; the first time they stand face to face with the world. 

  • ‘What if no one likes me?’
  • ‘What if I fail?’
  • ‘What if I don’t have as much fun as I’m told students are meant to have?’

Anxiety can result from any one of these things, or it can drape over us like a dull shroud, in response to nothing in particular. 

The bad news is that anxiety and stress can have a terrible effect on our immune system, which can exacerbate the Freshers’ Flu. 

The good news is that there are great ways of keeping it at bay, and maintaining good mental health.

Three Ways to Control Anxiety 

  • Meditate. This is easier said than done, and there are many methods. Speaking from experience, I recommend Transcendental Meditation. It has changed my life. 

It requires four sessions over four days to learn the technique, and while there is a fee, they offer great rates for NUS students. 

You can watch a lovely introductory video to Transcendental Meditation with the man who taught me:

  • Use a guided relaxation app. There are so many great ones from which to choose these days, but two highly recommended ones are Headspace and Waking Up
  • Speak to someone. The therapeutic effects of simply articulating your worries to someone else are staggering. Because of the prevalence of anxiety these days, l there are many people at university to whom you can talk. 

There is a great student mental health hub, as well as a helpful tool for finding support as a student.  

            

Finally

One final piece of advice in the context of Freshers’ Flu: If you feel yourself coming down with what you think is Freshers’ Flu, try not to worry. As discussed above, in all likelihood it is a simple cold aggravated by partying and unhealthy living. 

The best thing to do is to rationalise it as the natural consequence of enjoying yourself at precisely the time you should be. 

Worrying about whether or not it is Covid (see section on Covid, above) will not do you any favours. Punishing yourself with guilt is not helpful either. 

You deserve to have all the fun you can find in your first year at university. If you follow the suggestions in this article, you should avoid Freshers’ Flu and escape relatively unscathed. Good luck. 


If you are feeling unwell or are concerned about your symptoms, seek medical advice from your GP, or local Pharmacist.

The NHS advises ‘Fresher’ students who are going to university for the first time to ensure that they have had the MenACWY vaccine to prevent meningitis and septicaemia.


Written by Tim Kingston
Featured photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

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