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Its that time of year again: new students have descended on Sheffield from every corner of the globe and enjoying the freedom and excitement of the university atmosphere. However, lurking in the shadows is the dreaded freshers flu. Here are 10 things you probably weren’t told about freshers flu.

1 – It’s probably not really flu

The term freshers flu refers to the battery of minor respiratory illnesses that are most common in the first university semester. In most cases its just the common cold: a harmless virus. Influenza or ‘flu is a more severe viral illness.


2 – It’s not just for freshers & its not just for freshers week

Freshers are more likely to get freshers flu because they are being exposed to strains of viruses that they’ve never been exposed to before. Add in the exhaustion from late nights, the new university routine, the possibility of junk food and a bit too much alcohol: your immune system isn’t going to fight off the infection without it being noticed.

However, freshers aren’t the only people who are susceptible. University staff, medics and the residents of Sheffield also succumb.

There is usually a rise in the number of cases in the first 2 months of the semester, which gradually reduce closer to December. However, there is normally another small increase in cases when you all return from the Christmas vacation, just in time for exams!

3 – There isn’t one set of of symptoms

Symptoms vary from person to person and year to year. In most cases they are just symptoms of a bad cold. You might get some or all of the following:

  • runny nose
  • sore throat
  • cough
  • nausea
  • fatigue
  • raised temperature up to 39C
  • aching muscles

4 – It can take up to 3 weeks to clear

Most cases of the common cold last around a week and half and are usually worse in the first 3 or 4 days before they start to ease. The bad news is that it could take up to 3 weeks to clear.

5 – There is no cure

FACT: Despite the array of clever advertising for cough and flu treatments there is no known cure for the freshers flu or the common cold.

FACT: Antibiotics do not cure a cold. Antibiotics kill bacteria. A cold is a virus.


6 – It’s easy to catch & easy to spread

You catch a cold by breathing in droplets of liquid infected with the cold virus (eg: when somebody sneezes) or by touching a surface somebody else has sneezed on and then touching your mouth or nose.

You can help stop the spread of colds by investing in a box of tissues and covering your mouth and nose when you sneeze. Washing your hands with soap and water or alcohol gel will kill the virus.



7 – Self care is the best care

When it comes to the common cold there is no special treatment. Invest in a freshers flu survival kit! It’ll only cost you a few quid.


Tweet us pictures of your freshers flu survival kit @healthy_uos

Here are our top tips on easing the misery:

  • get some rest: studying or partying late at night won’t help
  • drink plenty of fluids: this will replace all the fluid you’ve lost in sweat and snot
  • eat healthily: five portions of fruit or veg per day will do the trick
  • don’t smoke: it will only make your cough worse
  • avoid booze: alcohol causes dehydration and hangover symptoms so it’ll make you feel a lot worse
  • paracetamol or ibuprofen can help ease the symptoms of a common cold. They are cheap and easily available. Remember to follow the dose instructions!


8 – A pharmacist can offer the same advice as a doctor

Doctors do not have any special treatments for the common cold or freshers flu. They can only offer the same advice you can get from a pharmacist. Save yourself the time of booking a doctors appointment and visit your local pharmacy instead.

An interactive map of the local pharmacies around the university campus is available on the SheffieldUHS smartphone app.

Apple version
Android version
Windows & Blackberry version

9 – There is nothing extenuating about a cold

The common cold is rarely a serious illness. The university does not consider a cold or freshers flu to be an extenuating circumstance. Please don’t go to the effort of asking for a medical certificate. It will be declined. Simple.

In the world of employment you’d probably be expected to go to work.


10 – There are times when medical help is needed

Most cases of freshers flu and the common cold are not serious, but other illness can mimic the common cold in the early stages. Here are the things you should look out for and seek medical attention for:

  • a temperature above 39C: this can be a sign of a more serious infection
  • confusion and disorientation
  • a sharp and persistent pain in your chest
  • coughing up blood stained phlegm (thick mucus)
  • you find it difficult to breathe (especially if you have asthma)
  • your symptoms last more than 3 weeks
  • large swellings in your neck and/or armpits

If you experience any of the symptoms listed above then please seek medical attention from the University Health Service or your local GP. Alternatively if you feel it’s urgent you can call 111 for help and advice 24 hours a day.

If you experience the following you should seek immediate medical attention:
  • a severe headache, an aversion to light, a stiff neck or a rash that does not fade under pressure: these can be signs of meningitis


Read more about meningitis here

If you’re a fresher and you have not been vaccinated against meningitis then it’s not too late to get a vaccine. Staff from the University Health Service will offering free vaccines – just call 0114 22 22 100 to book an appointment with a nurse for your vaccine.


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