THE first week of uni is supposed to be about having fun, making new friends and, of course, getting a bit boozy (sorry mum and dad).
So the last thing you need is to get sick, putting a dampener on your whole experience.
For most universities, Freshers’ Week starts today with thousands of students moving away from home for the first time.
It’s not unusual to get ill when you move away from home – your body is exposed to a whole range of new germs it might not be used to.
But some illnesses are significantly worse than others, and can be fatal if you don’t recognise the symptoms.
Emmeline Brown, Student Wellbeing and Transition Administrator at the University of Westminster, said: “Starting university for many students means moving away from home for the first time.
“This can mean that both students and their parents have a lot to think about. The health aspects are often overlooked while it should be on the very top of the list.
“It is important to register with a GP as they tend to be the first point of contact within the NHS.
“Not only do they offer medical advice and/or treatment but can refer the user to other NHS services if needed.”
Dr Sarah Jarvis, GP and clinical director of Patient.info, talks us through the bugs you need to be aware of…
Meningitis is a deadly infection that causes inflammation around the brain – and the strain known as MenW is on the rise.
Its symptoms are often mistaken for a hangover – and freshers are more at risk of this particular form.
“Even by meningitis standards, men W is a particularly nasty one,” Sarah told The Sun Online.
“It’s caused by the meningococcal bacteria, which can cause meningitis but can also cause septicaemia or blood poisoning.
“The blood poisoning is actually what causes the rash that doesn’t fade when you press a glass to it.
“You’re offered a vaccine between the ages of 13 and 14, but you can also get one if you are going up to university, so now is absolutely the time to do it.
“The most common time to get men W is in your first year at university because young people are coming together from all over the country.
“If not enough young people are vaccinated then you don’t have what it known as herd immunity.”
Public Health England has warned new uni students to check they have had their MMR jab amid ongoing measles outbreaks in Europe.
Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisations at PHE, said colleges and universities can be “hotspots” for the spread of measles and meningitis.
She added: “First year students especially are at increased risk of meningococcal infection if they are unvaccinated.
“Which makes sense when they spend large amounts of time with new people in confined environments such as university halls.
“We therefore encourage students to check with their GP that they are up to date with their MMR and MenACWY vaccinations before term starts.”
2. ‘Freshers flu’
You’ve probably heard of “freshers flu”.
Basically, as you are exposed to new germs you’re more likely to fall ill.
“Freshers flu is not actually flu at all, it’s usually a nasty cold,” Sarah said.
“What you need to remember is that as you grow up you develop immunity to anything you have caught.
“But if you are coming together with people from all over the country then there is a real chance you will be exposed to something you didn’t catch when you were a child.”
You’re also less likely to be looking after yourself as well as your mum and dad do, so your immune system could be compromised.
“You’re also in close contact with people – there’s lots of snogging in freshers week and lots of sitting around together,” Sarah added.
“The other problem is you are not eating well and you’re sleep deprived, so you’re more likely to get ill.”
3. Glandular fever
You may think glandular fever is something that only affects kids, but freshers are more at risk too.
Glandular fever is a virus that can leave you ill for weeks, sometimes months.
The symptoms include a fever, severe sore throat, swollen glands, exhaustion and tonsillitis that doesn’t get better.
“Glandular fever is something you most often get when you’re a child and, interestingly, if you get it then the symptoms are mild,” Sarah said.
“It’s passed on through saliva and coughing and sneezing.
“If you get it later in life then you are much more likely to have the nasty complication of being completely wiped out for it, some people have it for months.”
As discussed above, when you go to university you are exposed to new bugs thanks to all your new surroundings.
That means new asthma triggers too.
Every year when school goes back in September there is a rise in children suffering potentially deadly asthma attacks – the same goes for freshers.
“You are more likely to have an asthma attack if you get a cold, like freshers flu,” Sarah said.
“If you have asthma do make sure that you have your preventer inhaler and you sign up with the GP as soon as you arrive.”
5. Sexually transmitted infections
It might not be what your mum and dad want to hear, but we all know what happens during freshers week.
These are just some of the nasty infections you are at risk of if you have unprotected sex…
“Chlamydia is really important to be aware of, largely because many people don’t have symptoms and therefore don’t realise they have it – and may pass it on without realising,” Sarah said.
Chlamydia is one of the most common forms of STI in England.
It is a bacterial infection spread through unprotected sex.
Around 200,000 people test positive for the curable STI every year.
In the majority of cases, people with chlamydia don’t notice any symptoms at all.
But others may experience pain while weeing, unusual discharge from the vagina, penis or rectum, pain in the abdomen, bleeding after sex, bleeding between periods.
“Herpes you can pass on even when you don’t have symptoms, you tend to get a tingling in the early stages so you might know it’s coming on but not necessarily,” Sarah added.
Herpes is highly contagious and caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV), which triggers painful blisters.
It is spread by skin-to-skin contact – during vaginal, oral or anal sex – or even just a kiss.
There are two types of herpes - HSV 1 and HSV 2 – which enter the body through the moist skin of the mouth, penis, vagina and rectum.
Herpes is a chronic condition as it can become active after years of lying dormant in the body.
You may also experience swollen or irritated gums, a sore throat and swollen glands, high temperature, feeling sock and headaches.
Genital warts are small, fleshy growths that appear on or around the genital area or around your bum.
In England genital warts are the second most common type of sexually transmitted infection (STI) after chlamydia.
They are a viral skin infection caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV).
The warts are usually painless and do not pose a threat to your health, but they can cause some itching.
And they can be ugly to look at which can be upsetting for some people.
It can take months, or even years, for warts to develop after infection with HPV.
So if you’re in a relationship and you get genital warts, it does not necessarily mean your partner has been having sex with other people.
If you have genital warts you will need to seek treatment from a doctor.
It is the second most common form of STI in England.
The bacterial infection spreads through all forms of unprotected sex, oral sex, as well as by sharing unwashed or unprotected sex toys.
In women, symptoms can often include unusually watery or off-colour vaginal discharge, as well as burning pain when urinating.
Less common symptoms in women include pain in the lower gut and bleeding between periods or after sex.
Gonorrhoea can lead to more serious complications including pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy, infertility.
So, what’s Sarah’s advice?
Double dutch, all the time – that means using condoms and making sure you are on birth control like the Pill if you are a woman.
Mumps is a highly contagious viral infection.
It’s more common in children, but it can also affect teenagers and young adults.
Symptoms include painful swelling at the side of the face under the ears, headaches, joint pain, feeling sick, dry mouth, abdominal pain, fatigue, loss of appetite and a fever.
Again, being surrounded by new people in a new environment is the perfect place for a virus to spread.
“Check that you have had all your immunisations against measles, mumps and rubella,” Sarah said.
“You should have had one at the age of 12 months and one when you are three.
“One of the problems in young men is inflammation of the testicles, or orchitis, which can be extremely painful.
“It can also leave you sterile.”
Mumps can also turn into meningitis.
7. Mental health
It goes without saying that when you move away from home for the first time to start university, you are going to feel stressed.
That’s why it’s really important to keep an eye on your mental health.
If at any point you feel down, worried, anxious and like you can’t cope you should speak to a GP or counsellor.
“It’s an incredible stressful time, it’s exciting, but also very stressful so you need to be aware that there is help available,” Sarah said.
“Most universities now have pretty good mental health services.
“If you know you already have mental health problems then get in touch with the university to let them know in advance, sign up to campus counselling services as soon as you can.”
Anyone who has ever had cystitis knows the burning pain…and that they NEVER want to experience it again.
But, as with STIs, cystitis can be common among freshers for the obvious reasons.
Cystitis is an inflammation of the bladder which is typically caused by a bladder infection.
UTIs happen when the urinary tract becomes infected, usually by bacteria.
Anyone can get a UTI, but they’re particularly common in women, and especially common after sex.
“Most women get cystitis at some point in their lives,” Sarah said.
“It used to be called honeymoon cystitis, but these days you don’t have to be on a honeymoon for it to happen.
“Do get into the habit of weeing before and after you make love.
“Get into the habit of washing before you make love because it may help – cystitis is usually caused by germs that live on the outside and then travel up.
“Do not get dehydrated.”
9. Alcohol poisoning
On the topic of dehydration, alcohol poisoning is more common than you might realise among freshers.
“Mixing your drinks is a really, really bad idea – especially if you aren’t used to drinking.
“Go out with a certain amount of money and don’t get involved in buying rounds because when you buy rounds for everyone else and then it’s your turn you feel obliged to have one.
“Alternate alcoholic with non-alcoholic drinks.
“Don’t pre-load…that’s really important.
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“You’re more likely to engage in risky behaviour, unprotected sex and all sorts of things if you are drunk.”
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