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Is it Freshers' Flu or Meningitis?

By bzbeth 24 Sep 2021

You have probably heard that you're very likely to catch Freshers' Flu during your first term at university.


Unfortunately, the symptoms of the infamous Freshers' Flu closely align with that of Meningitis - a far more serious disease. It is vital that you understand the difference between these two conditions, and know when to seek support. 

What is Meningitis? 

Meningitis is a serious disease, whereby the linings surrounding the brain and spinal cord swell. It can happen to anyone at any age and it escalates very quickly. It is caused by multiple types of bacteria and viruses. If you start to show symptoms, call 999 immediately. 

What are the symptoms of meningitis? 

  • Fever
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Breathing quickly
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Pale, blotchy skin
  • Spots and rashes
  • Headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Dislike of bright lights
  • Very sleepy and difficult to wake

How do I prevent it? 

Many universities will insist on new students getting a Meningitis vaccination BEFORE moving to university. You can speak to your GP or ask your university support team for advice on this. Meningitis is highly contagious.

So, what is Freshers' Flu?

Fresher's Flu resembles a common cold or flu-like condition. It usually affects first-year students after they have been consuming large amounts of alcohol, eating poorly, or just spending a lot of time around new people.

What are the symptoms of Freshers' Flu?

  • Shivering
  • Fever
  • Dry cough
  • Sneezing
  • Headache
  • Grogginess

When do I call 999?

The symptoms are similar between the two illnesses e.g. both feature runny nose, headaches, and high temperature. However, if you become sensitive to light, experience a stiff neck, cold hands and feet, joint pain, drowsiness or vomiting seek help.

You may have heard that often a rash is associated with Meningitis. This is often in the later stages of this illness and sometimes does not appear at all. Do not wait for the rash to call 999.

If the rash does appear, it will resemble small red/purple pin prick spots that spread like fresh bruising. Press a glass against the skin - most rashes will disappear against the glass, meningitis will not.

Be aware and proactive when it comes to Meningitis!