Although Fresher’s Week is now well over, if you’ve recently gone to a lecture, sat in a library or even just walked down the street, you’ll have noticed that Freshers’ Flu is still very much present. Volleys of wheezing hacks have formed the soundscape of Michaelmas 2021, and Lemsip has become a way of life.
Freshers’ Flu is a classic part of the university experience – but this year, it’s gone nuclear. Spreading far beyond the freshers themselves, it has taken out a vast swathe of the student population in the past couple of weeks, hitting people both much harder and for far longer than you might expect a cold to do (even a very bad one). Of course, for many of us a return to university means a run of late nights in the October chill, drastically increased drinking and a joyful resumption (or beginning) of a loving relationship with your chip van of choice. So let’s face it, university life doesn’t exactly set anyone up to be fighting fit and in a good position to fight off a bug. Even so, this year’s Freshers’ Flu has really done a number on us all. As someone who had a positive PCR Covid-19 test at the end of last year, whatever’s going round this year was definitely worse for me – although interestingly (or perhaps dubiously) it seems to be worst of all for those who haven’t recently had Covid-19.
For one thing, Covid-19 was quite short for many of us – few of us plague rats who came down with it were really ill for the length of the isolation period, whereas this year’s disease seems not only to make people ill for longer, but to take a lot longer to shake off (hence the ubiquity of residual coughs).
Now, I’m no scientist (as an English student, probably about as far as you can get) – but it’s pretty easy to guess why we’ve all been knocked for six this year. You know how when little kids go to school for the first time, they (and their unfortunate families and teachers) get incredibly ill for about a month because it’s the first time they’ve been exposed both to such a melting-pot of disease and been around so many other kids? That’s us. Especially when you think that as we’ve not been able to get around or out much, particularly during the winter months when you’d normally be exposed to colds and viruses, the state of the student body’s collective immunity is probably about equivalent to that of a child just starting school. The 2020 freshers, too, also missed out on their own bout of Freshers’ Flu, because they weren’t able to mix and mingle (and even if you tried, you simply couldn’t be around large groups of people all that often in the way you can now) – which is perhaps why it spread so broadly this year, because they can’t act as a buffer between the freshers and the other years.