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Fresher's Flu: Staying Healthy at University

By Ben S. | 29th August 2017
 
When people think of students, the stereotype usually gravitates towards heavy drinking, working all through the night, eating plenty of fast food and sleeping. Some student activities are more accurate than others, but people don’t always think about student health and the threats that are presented to them when they first get to university, one of which is the flu. 
 
With a new academic year on the horizon, millions of students across the country are getting ready to leave home to embark on the next step of their academic career. That’s why we’ve put together this comprehensive guide to help you stay healthy at university and how you can help to prevent the flu from getting in the way of your studies. 
 

What is fresher's flu?

This might seem like a silly question, because we’ve all suffered from the flu at some point in our lives and it usually knocks us off our feet. Flu, or influenza, is a common viral illness that can take you almost entirely by surprise, with symptoms showing in the space of just a few hours. Although it’s most commonly spread during the colder months of winter, there’s still a chance it can make its way round through the rest of the year. Because of its particular intensity during winter, it’s regularly referred to as ‘seasonal flu’.

 

Symptoms of flu

There are a lot of different symptoms that are commonly associated with the flu and each person may experience a different combination depending on the strain and severity of the flu they catch. Some of the more common symptoms include:
  • Fever (above 38oC)
  • Tiredness, weakness and fatigue
  • Headaches and migraines
  • General aches and muscle pains
  • Chesty, regular cough
  • Blocked and runny nose
  • Sore throats

 

woman with a cold

How do I get the flu?

There are almost endless possibilities that can contribute to you getting the flu. Proximity to someone else who has it is a major factor that can cause the flu to spread. This extends to any physical contact you have to people who may be unwell, as well as touching surfaces that might carry influenza like doorknobs, cutlery, handrails and table counters. At university living in shared dormitories can often mean that the flu and other respiratory infections may be able to spread pretty quickly, so always be on the lookout for people in and around your social group who may begin to exhibit flu symptoms. If you can catch it early, you might be able to treat it early. 
 

 

How long does the flu last? 

The length and intensity of the flu again depends on the severity of the strain and the person who’s dealing with it. The average flu is believed to last for a week before your body begins to return to normal. Because flu can involve muscle aches and pains, you can expect to find yourself mostly confined to your bed for that week; afterwards you may still suffer smaller, less intense symptoms that allow you to get back to your normal routine. If your symptoms remain severe after a week, it may be necessary for you to contact your GP. 
 

What’s the difference between a cold and the flu?

There’s a very clear distinction between suffering with a cold and living with the flu. The difference in severity between a cold and the flu is usually a pretty accurate indicator to tell you which one you’re suffering from, as well as the range of symptoms you exhibit. A cold primarily affects your respiratory system, meaning you’ll experience things like sore throats, coughing and a runny nose. Like we mentioned earlier, the flu can target a much wider area of your body, potentially causing your entire body to ache. A cold, although unpleasant, often allows you to still go to lectures and get on with your work. The flu is more likely to interrupt your schedule, relying on plenty of time in bed to rest as a means to help overcome it.  
 

Treatments for fresher’s flu

Now that you’re away from home and self-dependent, the days of hoping mum or dad will take care of you whilst you’re sick are over. Living at university means that you’ll have to take care of yourself at all times, so it is incredibly beneficial to know how you can help treat the flu and how to prevent it in the first place. 
 

Diet

fresh vegetables for flu prevention One of the hardest challenges of student life is ensuring you eat a well-balanced diet to help keep your health and immune system up to scratch. By reinforcing your immune system with a variety of vitamins and minerals present in a healthy diet, you can help your body to combat the influenza virus in your body, potentially quickening your recovery rate and lessening the symptoms you suffer with. 
 
Even though it may get tricky managing your time at university, eat three meals a day. By keeping your body fuelled throughout the day, you may help fight off bacteria and infection for longer. The official recommendations include: 
 
  • Eating five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
  • Getting carbohydrates from sources like potatoes, whole grain bread and brown rice.
  • Consuming two portions of fish a week, one of which should be an oily fish like salmon, mackerel or sardines.
  • Choosing low-fat and sugar free dairy options instead of things like full-fat milk. 
  • Drinking between six and eight glasses of water a day.
 
There’s also a great variety of ‘immunity-boosting’ foods you can take advantage of to help support your body against sickness. Vitamin B6 and B12 are believed to help support your immune system and can be found in foods like lean turkey, spinach and eggs. If you’re looking to avoid the flu, these foods might be able to help. 
 
Although they may seem tempting at the time, takeaway meals, fast and processed foods are known to contain unhealthy levels of fats, sugars, additives and preservatives, all of which may not benefit your body and could play some role in exasperating or encouraging illnesses to kick in. Any takeaway meals you do ingest try and balance out with other healthier foods to give your body a helping hand.
 
Sometimes the flu is unavoidable, and when your strength is drained it can be especially difficult to keep up a healthy diet. When you’re suffering with the flu, always remember to keep things like vegetable and tomato soup handy. Not only do they help to raise your body temperature, which is believed to help combat the virus, they can also help to keep you hydrated. Takeaway meals may be convenient, but their nutritional content should be avoided. The same also goes for sugary, fizzy drinks, be sure to substitute these out of your diet for nice, hot herbal teas or water. 
 

Supplementation

Dietary supplements often make for a fantastic support system alongside a well-balanced diet to help fill any nutritional holes. Moving away from home for the first time can be daunting and a lot of students may experience dietary deficiencies that are not beneficial to your overall health and wellbeing. Some supplements, like multivitamins, are designed to work in harmony with your diet to help keep your body topped up with useful nutrients that may help to promote your immune system. You may find these useful during your time at university, so be sure to investigate before your new academic year gets underway. 
 

Rest

student sleeping for healthAs a student, it might feel like right off the bat you have a thousand things that need completing, but the flu and other illnesses at university can put a stop to them pretty quickly. As much as you’d like to push through the sickness, sometimes the one thing your body really needs is sufficient rest. Fighting an illness like the flu requires your body to use up more energy than usual and this can leave you feeling drained, lethargic and even sore. Letting yourself get plenty of rest whilst you have the flu is a fantastic treatment, because it allows your body to use the energy it needs to help with everyday life and can instead focus that towards fighting the influenza in your body. By taking any unnecessary stress off your body during this time, you may be able to help promote the healing process. 
 
Sufficient rest can also act as a good preventative measure for things like the flu as well. Things like Fresher’s Week and all-nighters have the potential, if you let them, to interrupt your sleep schedule and decrease the amount of rest your body needs to heal and function efficiently. If you’re looking to stay as healthy as possible at university, making sure that you get the recommended eight hours sleep every night may be a good place to start. 
 

Exercise

A good, well-rounded exercise routine is very beneficial to your health and being a student offers plenty of great opportunities to get the recommended 150 minutes of exercise a week alongside your studies. Sports based societies and fitness facilities are common in almost all universities around the country, with specialised staff to help you craft an exercise routine that suits your individual health requirements. 
Exercise, particularly aerobic exercises like walking, jogging, swimming and rowing are known to help improve circulation and blood flow, which can also contribute to help your immune system. When your blood flow increases, the components of your immune system, like white blood cells, travel around your body easier too. This may help to quickly combat viruses and bacteria that enter your body.  
When you’re dealing with the flu, put all your exercise routines on hold until most of your symptoms are gone. Your body needs all the energy it can get to help combat the illness, and exercising during this turbulent time might have the potential to contribute to further health issues.
 

exposure to flu virusExposure

Lectures, nightclubs, society meetings and trips to the library all put you in close proximity to a lot of people. This proximity can often increase your risk of catching an illness like a cold or flu because it’s easier for the germs and viruses to spread from person to person. One way of preventing this is to minimise this kind of exposure if you know someone has a respiratory sickness. 
 
Now we’re not saying that you need to go for a full-on quarantine, social situations will inevitably mean that you’ll find yourself in a crowd of people. There are, however, little precautions you can take that may add up to help your body’s natural defence. Travel-sized hand sanitisers and antibacterial wipes can be found in most pharmacies and supermarkets, and may help to protect you from harmful germs and bacteria that can often be found on communal surfaces like bar tops and restaurant tables. You may find this kind of mindfulness beneficial in the long run, potentially allowing you to manage the social and academic sides to studying, all the while supporting your health appropriately. 
 

Hygiene

Similarly to what we discussed regarding exposure, good hygiene may help to reduce your chances of suffering the flu, as well as helping to prevent its spreading to those around you. Germs and bacteria can amass on all surfaces, including your own body. Maintain a healthy, consistent hygiene routine by regularly washing your hands with soap and warm water, using tissues to cover your face when you cough or sneeze as well as disposing of these tissues accordingly. 
These easy precautions make for good preventative measures, but should also be maintained if you unfortunately catch a sickness like the flu. Purging the environment around you of any unnecessary harmful bacteria, viruses and toxins may help to support the healing process, letting you get back to your university schedule. 
 

“The more you learn, the more you know, you don’t know enough.” 

A lot of people forget that the commitment of going to university also means taking life completely into your own hands, including your health. University is a life changing experience, but that doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice your health to make time for all the fun. The points we’ve made in this article may seem obvious, but the main thing to remember is that you’re now living on your own. With a new academic year starting soon, making sure that you know how to properly take care of yourself when you’re ill is a must. 
 
But it’s not all doom and gloom, universities all throughout the country are outfitted with student health centres that are always on hand to provide help and support whenever you need it. Moving to a new town or city for the first time on your own may feel overwhelming, so make use of these services whenever you feel it necessary. 
 
 
Article by Ben S.

Ben Staff is a university trained journalist who specialises in writing and creating online content, with a specific interest in researching media coverage of health and nutritional topics. An outdoorsman at heart that enjoys hiking and mountaineering, he dreams of one day following in his heroes’ footsteps by climbing Mount Everest.

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