The freshman in the paper mask

BY DANIELLE KRUIZENGA
For the Daily
Published January 30, 2007

Bursley Hall residents looked like aspiring Grey's Anatomy extras as surgical facemasks and hand sanitizer were doled out yesterday afternoon.

Sarah Royce
Public Health graduate student Nastassia Gurganus calls Bursley Hall residents to remind them about the start of the M-FLU study yesterday. (SHAY SPANIOLA/Daily)

The students were preparing for their first day in the School of Public Health's M-FLU study.

The study, supported by grants from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, began when University Health Services reported the season's first diagnosis of influenza. One group of student participants is required to wear masks in the residence halls until either the flu season ends or the study reaches its maximum of six weeks.

So far 1,152 students living in the residence halls are participating in the study, said Rebecca Coulborn, the study's recruitment coordinator.

Coulborn said she is still hoping to reach the original goal of 2,250 students.

"That kind of sample size will allow for a more accurate study and give us the confidence to reject any speculation of chance," she said.

Control groups will be studied in East Quad and Stockwell residence halls. The two dorms have a 70 percent participation rate among residents.

Why the high interest? It's all about the Hamiltons.

Students from the two halls receive $40 for answering a short survey every week. If participants develop flu symptoms during the survey, they will be tested at UHS and paid an additional $25 if the throat culture is positive.

Residents of Betsy Barbour, Helen Newberry, Couzens and Alice Lloyd will earn $100 for wearing the facemasks around their residence halls. Students in Bursley Hall will earn the same for using a hand sanitizer daily in addition to the facemasks.

While most students interviewed admitted that they were simply "in it for the cash," whether or not they would actually wear the masks was questionable.

LSA freshman Alex Nish, a Bursley resident participating in the study, said she didn't plan to wear the mask.

"It's claustrophobic and embarrassing," she said. "I'm not performing surgery and I don't have SARS."

LSA freshman Leslie Demers had similar concerns but said she would wear the mask.

"I think a lot of people, like myself, are self-conscious about wearing them," Demers said.

Nish and Demers both said that they will respond truthfully in their weekly surveys.

"We want them to be honest so that we can capture the information accurately," Coulborn said.

Researchers plan to compare the results of those who wore the masks to those who didn't by using statistical analysis software, Coulborn said.

"We know that they are proven to kill bacteria, but we hypothesize that the combination of masks and sanitizers will be effective," said Ana Vaz, a graduate student in the School of Public Health and member of the M-FLU recruitment team.

Whether or not the team will get 1,098 more students to participate may depend on the encouragement of resident advisors and friends.

"My RA is involved and convinced a lot of my friends and me to do it together," Engineering freshman Christopher Callahan said. "It definitely makes the experience more comfortable."

While many Bursley residents wore masks yesterday, Couzens resident and LSA sophomore Jeff Bartels found himself alone. Despite his solitude, he said he keeps an upbeat attitude among a sea of mask-less faces.

"I'm always smiling under here," he said, while pointing to the mask and laughing. "You just have to be comfortable and confident around people."

As of now, students are only required to wear the masks in the residence halls.

"That's all right," Bartels joked upon hearing the news. "I get an extra $25 if I actually do catch the flu."

By the numbers

1,152 The number of students participating in the M-FLU study

$100 Payment to participants for wearing facemasks

2,250 Target number of participants

$25 Payment to participants who happen to develop flu symptoms