Fresher’s Flu and Covid-19

After year we’ve had, many of us now consider ourselves experts on how to self-isolate, social distance and how NOT to catch a virus. However, just as we feel we’ve defeated one illness, another is just around the corner.

Enter: Fresher’s Flu.

What is Fresher’s Flu?

You may already be familiar with the term “fresher’s flu;” used to describe a collection of symptoms, such as a fever, aches, and a cough, that strike down many students right at the start of the academic year. Some sceptics believe the illness to be no virus at all, simply putting symptoms down to the sleepless nights, excessive drinking, and questionable eating habits of student life. However, with 27.5 million working days being lost to cold and flu each year, most people agree that fresher’s flu is a real issue in academic circles.

So how what is fresher’s flu and why do so many of us catch it? Fresher’s flu is not one specific virus; it is likely to be a different one every year. Candidates include parvoviruses, enteroviruses and even coronaviruses (do not be alarmed; despite now being synonymous with Covid-19, the term coronavirus actually refers to a group of viruses known to cause flu like symptoms, many of which don’t cause serious illness).

What all these viruses have in common is that they are respiratory. This means they are spread through droplets in the air, infecting our lungs and airways. Covid-19 has taught us all too well that these viruses thrive in enclosed crowded environments, where they can infect a large number of people in a small space of time.

Full of pubs, clubs and lecture theatres, fresher’s week provides the perfect breeding ground for cold and flu-like viruses. Susceptible students from all over the country are suddenly interacting in intense concentrations, and the added strains of student life weakens our immune systems, leaving us vulnerable.

Is it possible to avoid fresher’s flu? There will always be some among us that seem to possess immune systems of steel and never come down ill. But, for most of us coming down with some kind of fresher’s flu illness is inevitable.

The only way to truly protect yourself is to self-isolate, which after the year it’s been, may no longer sound like a completely ridiculous suggestion. However, with restrictions lifted and a whole new world at your doorstep, you would be kicking yourself for staying inside. Instead, focus on monitoring your drinking and getting enough sleep, and failing that: get in your 5 a Day

Covid or Freshers Flu?

Of course, we shouldn’t forget that Covid-19 is still very much present in our lives. However, it can easily be confused with fresher’s flu: the symptoms are pretty much identical. Research by some student unions found that students had trouble distinguishing the two:

“A lot of Freshers have a fever and a cough. They don’t know how bad it has to be to get a test”

The answer is arguably simple: test regularly. Most cases of Covid-19 among young adults are asymptomatic so you could be carrying the virus without even knowing. On campus lateral flow tests can be booked online at the University’s website and you can also pick up home test kits from any local pharmacy. You can also pick them up at the Cromer Terrace studio on campus.

If you’re showing Covid-19 symptoms – fever, continuous cough or change in taste or smell (this last one is the most common amongst young people) – book a PCR test through the NHS Test and Trace Service.

As we start a new academic year without restrictions, we face problems old and new. However, fresher’s flu should not be one of them – an inconvenience at most – and, with the right precautions, neither should Covid-19.