Student science: The science behind Freshers’ Flu

Freshers’ is that time of year when everyone gets sick. Lectures in the autumn, especially for first years, are filled with cascades of coughs and sneezes, all because of the dreaded illness known commonly as Freshers’ Flu.

Despite the name, Freshers’ Flu isn’t even a flu. It’s more like a bad cold that could just give you the sniffles, or at worst leave you bedridden for a few days.

Every student that comes to university from different parts of the country will bring with them a set of germs. You’ll come into contact with so many unfamiliar bacteria from all the people you meet all at once that the body can’t handle it. Your immune system, made up of white blood cells and antibodies, can handle small amounts of bacteria at a time without you even knowing.

To put it simply, a white blood cell will surround a pathogen, ‘consume’ it, and neutralise it. From then on your body knows that one kind of germ and will be able to recognise it and defend against it even better next time. When your body is flooded with so many different pathogens that it’s never seen before, you hardly stand a chance.

To make things worse, germs aren’t the only reason why so many people get ill. While they do trigger the symptoms, there are a number of other factors that don’t help at all. It is Freshers’ Week after all, and most people will be drinking enough to drown a fish. As shocking as it may be, alcohol does not help when you’re ill. Alcohol will weaken your defences physically and mentally and leave you less able to fight illness.

Coupled with the alcohol comes the partying, often lasting into the early hours of the morning. A lack of sleep will leave you zombie-like at the best of times, but with pathogens in the air you’ll be far more susceptible to the bug.

And not to forget the food you’ll eat on nights out. Greasy, fatty food, chock-full of carbs with not a vegetable or vitamin in sight won’t be good for you anyway, but when you’re ill you’re going to need better food than that to help. Grab a bag of spinach and an orange from Lidl to strengthen yourself and give yourself a fighting chance.

It’s not just physical factors that can make you less likely to survive the sickness, but also mental. Stress has been proven to influence physical health, and the stress of being in a completely new place with new people far away from home has its effects.

Don’t think you’re immune or stronger than everyone just because you don’t get sick very often, because as many as 90 per cent of new students could come down with Freshers’ Flu within the next few weeks. You can try bathing in hand sanitiser or locking yourself in your room for the entire duration of Freshers’ in an attempt to not catch the bug, but realistically you’re going to just have to deal with it. Eat well, drink lots of water, keep a good supply of Lemsip at the ready and the symptoms should ease in good time.

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