September gathers the student population back to schools and universities. With this, there is often a wave of colds and other illnesses that go around. So, what is freshers’ flu, and does it actually exist? Dr Eoin Mc Donagh, GP and Medical Director at the Student Health Unit in NUI Galway, helps to define this well-known concept. Speaking to SIN News, Dr. Mc Donagh elaborated on the some of the main causes and symptoms, what medical advice you should follow and what is the best way to avoid it. Here is everything you need to know.
“Freshers flu is a common term that has come into use over the years, it describes not only what is seen in 3rd level but also other educational institutions including second level, primary schools and creches,” said Eoin Mc Donagh.
“It’s where you have multiple people congregating in one place, generally indoors,” he further explained.
As the change of season arrives, we begin to see a lot of common cold type symptoms including: runny noses, congestion, coughs and sore throats. Dr Eoin Mc Donagh mentioned that medical influenza or the flu arrives around October and November time. Thus, freshers’ flu could be really seen as more of a cold.
“The flu will have you bed bound. It hits you for 5-10 days. You’re shivering, experiencing aches, pain, fatigue and a headache. Freshers’ flu is really a layperson’s term that refers to a general increase in respiratory illnesses and colds,” he said.
The change of season brings shifts in temperature. The weather is seen as one of the main causes. Dr Eoin Mc Donagh points out that during the summer time, people go back to their hometowns and are scattered all around the country. As schools return to full swing, the sudden gathering becomes another factor.
“People begin to mix across different social settings as they socially interact in restaurants, pubs and house parties,” he said.
“At this time of year, you’ll always see a big spike. Then it dies down as the semester goes on. People will scatter again for Christmas break and go back to their communities. With their return, you almost get a second round of freshers’ flu,” he added.
Flu symptoms mimic cold symptoms. However, there are a few main differences. Dr Eoin Mc Donagh helps to distinguish between the two.
“The most common infection is the cold sinus congestion. The individual is not bed bound and the body temperature does not exceed 38 degrees celsius,” he said.
Dr Eoin Mc Donagh mentioned that the flu might include symptoms such as fatigue, sweats and shivers.
“When you try to stand you feel very weak and you’re likely to be wiped out for several days. You may also lose your appetite,” he added.
What to do while sick:
“Although the Covid number of cases have reduced, the first thing that should come into mind, and what you always have to think of is, could this be Covid?,” he said.
Dr Eoin Mc Donagh advises anyone with symptoms to stay at home, not to attend any lectures, work or placement.
“There is an online HSE portal that citizens can use in order to book a Covid test for free. You can choose a test centre to suit your location. There is a test centre on the NUI Galway campus. The test will be booked for that same day, or at worst for the following. You should stay at home and avoid mixing with others,” he said.
If you are experiencing any symptoms, Dr Eoin Mc Donagh recommends finding someone to go to the pharmacy for you. You can treat those symptoms while still keeping to yourself.
“Only about 3% will contract Covid, and although this is a small percentage, we don’t want to be spreading any colds or flus,” he said.
How to avoid it:
Our own general health and well-being must be considered. Ensure that you are eating well and in general have a fairly balanced diet.
“The human body is like a machine if you don’t put good fuel or enough fuel into it, it will not function well,” said Dr Mc Donagh
You need a good night’s sleep. While it is good to be out, socialise and have a few late nights, try to get enough sleep for the majority of the week. Not to mention that regular exercise also helps.
“The most important thing you can do to prevent getting these infections is to continue with the measures that work so well. Sanitize your hands when you walk into any facility or shop. Wearing a mask gives you a degree of protection but what it really does, it protects other people around you and shows respect towards others,” said Dr Mc Donagh.
The Health Unit at NUI Galway has highlighted that those who are unwell and are waiting for an appointment should remain in their accommodation and contact them if necessary on (091) 492 604.