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7 health tips for students starting university

September 11, 2023
7 health tips for students starting university
September 11, 2023

Later this month, thousands of students will start or go back to university. But health experts are concerned that university halls of residences and packed lecture theatres will once again be the perfect breeding ground for freshers’ flu, the latest COVID strain, or even more serious illnesses, such as meningitis.


If you’re about to head off to study away from home, make sure you know how to reduce your risk of illness and infections, as well as where to get support for your physical and mental health while you’re studying away from home.


  • Get vaccinated


“Fresher” students going to university for the first time should make sure they’ve had the MenACWY vaccine to prevent meningitis and septicaemia, which can be deadly.


Latest figures show the MenACWY vaccine uptake has fallen to 79.6% [source: gov.uk] meaning large numbers of teenagers will be unprotected against meningitis when they start university.


The NHS specifically states that all students starting college or university should make sure they’ve had:


  • the MenACWY vaccine – which protects against serious infections like meningitis. You can ask a GP for this vaccine until your 25th birthday, if you missed having it at school or before coming to the UK to study.
  • 2 doses of the MMR vaccine – as there are outbreaks of mumps and measles at universities. If you have not previously had 2 doses of the MMR vaccine, you can ask a GP for the vaccine.


Simply call your GP to get yours booked in, ideally as soon as possible because you’re most at risk in the first few weeks of term due to coming into contact with a lot of new people. 


As for seasonal vaccines, students aren’t eligible for the flu or COVID booster this autumn/winter unless they have certain health conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, liver or heart conditions.


You can arrange a private flu jab for a small charge at a pharmacy. There is no private COVID vaccine available yet.


  • Be aware of meningitis symptoms 


Meningitis is an infection of the protective membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord


We’ve all heard of freshers’ flu doing the rounds but its flu-like symptoms can easily be confused with much more serious conditions, such as meningitis.


According to Claire Wright, Head of Insights and Policy at Meningitis Research Foundation:


‘Meningitis can kill healthy people within hours and in the early stages is difficult to distinguish from a bad hangover or more common milder illnesses.’


She also warns that ‘for young people who have already been vaccinated it remains important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of meningitis because the free MenACWY vaccine does not protect against MenB, which is the most common cause of life-threatening meningitis amongst this age group.’


Meningitis symptoms include:


  • fever
  • headache
  • aching muscles and joints 
  • a stiff neck.


It can quickly develop into septicaemia recognised by its non-blanching (meaning it doesn’t fade when a glass is pressed against it) rash. Getting antibiotics and seeking urgent medical attention by calling 999 is crucial at this stage of the infection.


  • Have a doctor’s details to hand 


It’s important to look after your health when moving away from home for the first time. This includes registering with a new GP


There are two ways to make sure you have access to a GP wherever you’re studying in the UK. Either by:


  • Registering with a GP – if you’re studying in a different city or area it’s a good idea to register with a local GP, especially if you’re spending longer away from home than you’re spending at home. Here’s how to register.


  • Downloading the ZoomDoc app – if you’re concerned about your symptoms and need to speak to a doctor, ZoomDoc offers GP appointments at a time to suit you, without needing to wait too long. Download the app and from as little as £35 you could be speaking to a doctor and even getting the required prescription or treatment recommendation the same day.


Of course, for anything medically urgent call 111 for advice, or in an emergency call 999.


  • Use contraception


Regular planned contraception is the simplest, most efficient way to avoid an unplanned pregnancy.


As we’ve reported previously, sexually-transmitted infections are on the rise. So don’t let a case of syphilis or gonorrhoea spoil your start to your studies.


Condoms are your best form of defence and if you suspect you may have an STI, get it diagnosed and treated as soon as possible.


You can do this by seeing or speaking to a doctor (see above for how) or even by sending off for a home test that you can do in the privacy of your room.


Find the sexual health test you need here for peace of mind, or to get treatment started asap.


  • Look after your liver


Liver disease is a silent killer as many people will have no symptoms until there is irreversible liver damage.


Freshers’ week may be famous for week-long drinking sessions but alcohol mis-use can cause long-term liver damage, not to mention alcohol poisoning and alcohol-induced accidents.


The NHS says that ‘to keep health risks from alcohol to a low level, both men and women are advised not to regularly drink more than 14 units a week.’ One unit is the equivalent of one shot or half a pint of beer.


If you have overdone it or want to help your liver recover, reduce your units and make sure you have several alcohol-free days each week.


  • Talk to someone


Many colleges and most universities have a free and confidential in-house counselling service you can access.


Growing numbers of university students have been struggling with their mental health, thought to be caused by exam stress, financial struggles and being unprepared for life away from home due to lockdowns.


As well as seeing a GP for advice and medication if required, there are always people on hand to talk to, on or off campus. These can include:


  • On-site counselling 

These are often on campus and are free or subsidised for students.  Services are either provided in person, by phone, or online, and can help students manage a wide range of mental health issues, including depression and anxiety. 


  • Student helplines

Student Minds is a charity designed for students needing support, advice and help. You can call them FREE on 0808 189 5260, ​7 days a week from 3pm to 12am.

Mind also has a student hub with help and support available.

UMHAN, which stands for the University Mental Health Advisers Network also has lots of info and relevant resources.


Don’t suffer in silence.


  • Get a same-day doctor’s note

If you do fall ill while you’re at university or need time off to get better, ZoomDoc can help you avoid any unnecessary stress of sorting a ‘sick note’ for tutors. 


Simply select ‘university & college sickness’ from our medical letters service and for just £40 we’ll supply your medical letter the same day, without having to make an in-person GP appointment.


That way you can focus on getting better and back to your studies just as soon as you can.

Want to know more?

Our team of Doctors are available via the ZoomDoc App for any medical questions or queries.