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Meningitis or fresher's flu?

Feeling a bit peaky after overdoing it is one of the dangers during your first weeks at university, but there are bigger health risks lurking there too. Read on for our guide to spotting the difference between ‘fresher’s flu’ and something more serious, and how to protect yourself and others.

What is fresher’s flu?

You’ll meet plenty of new people during fresher’s week – and unfortunately you might meet their germs too. With so many people living so close together in halls of residence, infections can spread fast. Adding to that the lack of sleep that comes from all that partying during freshers’ week – or just the excitement of being away from home for the first time – means that many students will wake up with a runny nose and sore head, or what people call ‘fresher’s flu’.

‘Fresher’s flu’ isn’t actually a disease in itself, but a slang term for all the nasty little colds which do the rounds amongst first year students. If you do have a cold, get some rest, stock up on tissues and get plenty of vitamins from eating fresh fruit and vegetables. This should shift it after a few days of feeling grotty, but if the symptoms persist or get worse see a doctor.

What is meningitis?

Like colds, meningitis is spread through coughing and sneezing and many of the initial symptoms – such as tiredness, fever and vomiting – can be confused with a cold or even a hangover. However, meningitis is far more serious – and in some cases can even be fatal. You should seek medical help if you or anyone you know displays the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Severe headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Severe muscle pain
  • Drowsiness or confusion
  • Joint pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Discomfort around bright lights
  • A blotchy red rash which does not fade under pressure (you can check this by rolling a glass over the infected area)

See the video above for more information about meningitis and septicaemia.

Luckily however, your doctor can give you a vaccine against some – although not all – strains of meningitis. This is free on the NHS, and you should get one before you go to university if you can, or straight away when you get there. Meningitis Now also has plenty of information on their website. and a 24 hour helpline on 0800 028 1828 But don’t just look online, since one of the most important ways to stop meningitis is to look after yourself and look out for your friends.

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