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5 avoidable health threats every student should know about

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From exam stress to bugs, bumps and bruises, few students go through university without facing a health problem or two. But the last thing you need is an illness that seriously harms your study or social life, so take a look at our list of potential student health problems. And don’t worry – we’ve also suggested the best way of avoiding them.

1. Protect yourself against meningitis

The word ‘meningitis’ strikes fear into most of us because – whilst thankfully rare – it’s fatal in around 1 in 10 cases and can lead to long-term health problems from amputation to learning difficulties or deafness

Cases of meningitis and septicaemia (blood poisoning) caused by “Men W” bacteria are rising and older teenagers and university students are at higher risk of infection through mixing closely with lots of new people, some of whom may unknowingly carry the meningococcal bacteria.

Adolescents, particularly those going to university for the first time, are at increased risk of meningococcal disease. So check if you’re eligible to get the Men ACWY vaccine to protect against four strains of the disease that can lead to meningitis and septicaemia.

2. ‘Legal’ highs – get informed

Legal highs, club drugs, research chemicals, new psychoactive substances…whatever you call them it is now illegal to supply any of these substances for human consumption, but most importantly they carry serious health risks.

There’s not enough known about many of these drugs to understand their potency, their effects on people, or what happens when they’re used with other substances or alcohol. The packaging might describe a list of ingredients but you can’t be sure that this is what’s inside.

So you can’t really be sure what you’ve bought or been given, or what effect it’s likely to have on you or your friends. It’s your responsibility to get informed about the law and the health risks of new psychoactive substances.  There’s plenty of advice online.

3. Measles and mumps – not just childhood illnesses

Did you get vaccinated as a child? We’re currently seeing cases of measles around England, with adolescents and young adults most affected.

This could be due to a historical ‘immunisation gap’ where some parents didn’t vaccinate their children because of scare stories drummed up by a study (later labelled ‘dishonest’ and ‘fraudulent’) which claimed the vaccine was linked to autism in children.

If you missed out on vaccination it’s never too late to get your MMR. Because you really don’t want to get measles at university (the all-over rash isn’t a great look, but in some people serious illness can follow) whilst mumps in adults can also lead to some very undesirable complications.  Swollen testicles or ovaries or in rare cases even infertility, versus a quick vaccination – you decide.

If you aren’t sure whether you were vaccinated as a child then speak to your GP. There’s no harm in receiving an additional dose so if you have no record, you can still get the jab.

4. The best student sex is safe sex

Chlamydia is the most common sexually transmitted infection among young people. It often has no symptoms and, if left untreated, can lead to infertility in women.

If you have unprotected sex you could be at risk, which is why testing is so important (as well as easy and confidential). Students under the age of 25 can get tested for chlamydia free on the NHS through a variety of services including GUM clinics, family planning or your GP, many university health services and even some pharmacies.  Many local areas provide an online service which will send a test kit directly to your home.

Other common STIs among students include genital warts, genital herpes and gonorrhoea. HIV infection is less common, but does happen so there’s no room for complacency. Get informed about how to protect yourself.

5. Freshers flu – is it a thing?

Parties, booze, late nights, mixing with people from all over the world… for some it’s all part of university life. But unsurprisingly this can lead to you feeling a bit under the weather or as some label it ‘freshers flu’.

You don’t need to be studying medicine to work out that keeping an eye on how much you’re drinking, getting a bit of exercise, making an effort to eat well and taking time out to rest is the best antidote.

At any time during your university experience you might find the NHS Choices student guide helpful, with information about stress and mental health to tips on staying active and eating well on a budget.

This article was originally published on the Public Health England website on the 27th April 2016.

Image credits:
Measles: CDC
Sneeze: Alan Foster
Condom: Kerry J
Legal highs – National Assembly for Wales