Freshers’ flu and other common university illnesses

We’re human, which means that we’re susceptible to a whole range of illnesses (see COVID for reference). This probably reaches its peak when you’re just starting out at uni and enjoying Freshers’ week, exposing yourself to a whole host of new bacteria from the infamous freshers' flu, to mumps. The Mix gives you the cure.

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What is freshers’ flu?

This virus is one of the most common university illnesses. Sadly, if you catch it it’ll spell a sorry end to your freshers’ week. Some of the symptoms of freshers’ flu include fever, shivering, headache, sneezing, and a dry cough, Freshers’ flu is not for the faint-hearted. In the most severe cases, it can even leave you bed-ridden for a few days.

Keep in mind, this doesn’t just afflict all the new blood at uni, the entire campus is at risk. It’s the environment you’re in that creates the hotbed for infection. So with hundreds of new students from around the globe coming together to begin university life, it means that there are outbreaks of flu and other illness making their rounds during the start of term. Honestly though, this shouldn’t really be a surprise if you consider the life of a uni student.

As a fresher, you might be out to party – but the same can be said for all the bacteria and viruses that have come along for the ride. Poor diet, junk food, lack of sleep and stress can also make you more vulnerable. And then, after feeling great for the first couple of days, they all come together to weaken your immune system.

Deal with it: Short of steering clear of all the fresher fun, there’s little you can do. If you’re struck down, just take it easy. Get as much rest as you can whilst drinking plenty of water, take paracetamol for your temperature, and stay warm. If you’re at all concerned, or it lasts for more than a week, see your doctor (GP) for more advice. In the meantime, you can check out our article on cold and flu recovery here.


Okay so technically speaking this isn’t just limited to being one of the university illnesses. But similarly to freshers’ flu, unfortunately coronavirus seems to spread very quickly and effectively amongst students. We all know the symptoms by now; everything from headaches to a runny nose, continuous cough, fatigue, bodily ache, loss of smell or taste, or sometimes nothing at all. So exactly how do you know if you have freshers’ flu, covid, or just a bad cold? Well, the only way to really know is via a positive lateral flow or PCR test.

The best way to avoid coronavirus as a student is to get vaccinated. We’d recommend heading to the NHS website to book yours if you haven’t already. And if you have any questions or concerns about covid-19 vaccinations, check out our mythbusting article here. On top of doing all that, wearing a mask in crowded or unventilated indoor spaces can also help. 

Deal with it: It’s important to test yourself regularly and make sure you’re consistently washing your hands for AT LEAST 20 seconds (singing Happy Birthday oughta do the trick). If you do end up testing positive, follow the government’s advice on isolating yourself. If you need supplies then hopefully you’ve got plenty of fellow students around you to drop off snacks. While you’re isolating, make sure to stay hydrated and get plenty of rest. Most people will make a full recovery on their own without medical intervention. But if it seems to be getting worse and you start to have any difficulty breathing, call for an ambulance straight away.


There are two types of meningitis – viral and the more serious bacterial variety. The bacterial virus can develop rapidly, causing inflammation of the brain lining, and requires urgent medical attention. Children and young people are most at risk, which is why students should always be on the lookout for symptoms.

A stiff neck and severe headache are some of them, along with a dislike of bright lights, high temperature and vomiting. You should also watch out for a rash that starts looking like tiny pinpricks and later turns to purple blotches. Keep in mind that a meningitis rash won’t fade when pressed (try using a glass tumbler against the skin).

Deal with it: The majority of people who pick up the viral infection, which can take weeks to develop, tend to recover without treatment. If you get the bacterial strain, then antibiotics can help to prevent the spread of some forms of bacterial meningitis. Either way, it’s vital for a medical professional to identify what type it is at an early stage. That way they can give you the right type of care.


If your face has suddenly swollen up and you now look like Alvin, Simon or Theodore. But it hurts. Really quite hurts. You may have fallen victim to mumps. Other symptoms include: a headache, painful joints and a temperature.

Mumps is caught in the same way as colds and flus so it’s pretty contagious. Plus, to add to the fun, young people are particularly at risk. The only real way to protect yourself from mumps is by getting the MMR injection. Likelihood is, you won’t remember if you got it so check with your parents to see if they made you take a vaccine when you were a child.

Deal with it: There’s currently no way of treating mumps once you’ve got it – apart from ye olde bed rest, painkillers, drinking loads of water, and eating mushy foods. It’s highly contagious though. So make sure to quarantine yourself for at least five days after symptoms show.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)

If student life means getting more (or any) action, it also means a greater risk of coming into contact with a STI. Some of the main ones to look out for are anything from herpes to chlamydia – or even HIV.

Deal with it: When it comes to any kind of sexual activity, you can minimise your risk of infection by using condoms every time. This is the only form of contraception that protects against sexually transmitted infection as well as pregnancy. If you think you may have picked something up, or wanna just make sure everything’s okay down there, visit your local sexual health clinic.

Remember, no matter what the illness is you can visit NHS Choices for more information. You can get quick advice when it’s not an emergency on 111.

Next Steps

  • You can visit NHS Choices for more information. You can get quick advice when it's not an emergency on 111.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.

By Nishika Melwani

Updated on 24-Apr-2022