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Freshers’ flu might be different this year

This article was written on the 19th of September.

Today I tasted freedom for the first time in ten days. Perhaps “tasted” is the wrong word, as my sense of taste and smell has not fully recovered yet. A walk around Withington wouldn’t usually be that exciting. However, after finishing mandatory isolation following a positive test result for SARS-COV-2 – the now infamous virus responsible for the disease COVID-19, it’s a literal breath of fresh air.

Thankfully, my illness wasn’t severe. For two days I was bedridden with a high temperature, muscle aches, chills, and fatigue. As I didn’t have a cough, I naively convinced myself that I had simply caught the flu, or some other bug going around. Nonetheless, I decided that I should get tested. I eventually managed to get a home testing kit after much frustration navigating the woefully underfunded NHS testing system. By the time I got my positive result, three whole days later, I was feeling a lot better, but my senses of smell and taste had almost entirely vanished, and there was a tightness in my chest.

The timing couldn’t have been worse.

That same week, the last of my housemates moved in, and we now had a full house. The whole household was forced into isolation immediately, in case anyone had caught the virus from me, or, on the contrary, if I had unknowingly caught it from them. Surprisingly, nobody else seemed to get ill. Even when one of my housemates got tested, her result came back negative. Regardless, their self-imposed exile continued alongside mine. This wasn’t how we had planned to spend the last couple of weeks of our summer break before the start of university.

The most difficult thing about my illness was, in fact, the intense depressive episode I fell into when I tested positive. Whether this is due to some physiological change in my body caused by the virus, or whether it is simply a natural result of having to self-isolate after months of anxiety and fear, I do not know. There is emerging research showing links between SARS-COV-2 and various psychiatric conditions, including depression and anxiety – a worrying prospect during a worsening mental health crisis amongst young people.

I did not write this article to seek pity. I wrote this because I believe that my experience is going to become an increasingly common one. Schools across the country have been hit with closures after numerous confirmed cases. A similar wave is likely to spread through university residential areas, especially halls, as more people move back to university and the apparent second wave of COVID-19 begins to truly hit.

Therefore, my message to other students is this – it really could happen to you.

I was extremely careful: I followed all of the government guidelines on washing hands and wearing masks, I didn’t socialise in big groups, and I didn’t go to house parties, as much as I really miss a good Fallow party. I did practically everything I was advised by the government to do, and I still caught the virus.

As a new academic year begins, you may be focused – rightly so – on getting started on your classes, meeting new people and joining societies. By all means, still try and make the most of university and enjoy yourself. But please be careful and follow NHS guidance on masks and distancing, because this pandemic is far from over, and it can take you by surprise.

If you show symptoms, try and get a test immediately. Unfortunately, it isn’t always easy, and it may take a few tries to book a test slot, but with some perseverance you should be able to find a suitable time and site. Morning testing slots often seem to become available the night before, and the nearest walk-in test site to University at the time of writing is at Denmark Road Sports Centre. Home kits are currently in short supply, but hopefully this situation will improve. I would also recommend getting a flu vaccine to avoid a potential scare if you end up infected with flu and showing COVID-like symptoms.

I’m lucky to have quickly made a full recovery from the virus, and my housemates are lucky that they either didn’t catch the virus, or were asymptomatic. But not everybody will be so lucky. There are vulnerable students at our university, and vulnerable people in the surrounding community. I really hope that everyone plays their part in ensuring that this unusual academic year goes as smoothly as possible, so that others do not have to experience the same disruption to regular life that I did when I tested positive.

Tags: coronavirus, covid-19, Freshers, Manchester, testing

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