Correlation Seen in Upper Respiratory Infections in college-aged users

August 08, 2017

A Regis University research team has found evidence that some Facebook behavior is associated with higher rates of respiratory infection in college-age users. In particular, according to the study led by Jay Campisi, chair of Regis’ biology department, students who were the most anxious in their Facebook use experienced twice as many upper respiratory infections (URI) as their lesser anxious counterparts.

“It depends on how you interact online,” Campisi said. “The people who use Facebook and don’t get stressed about it do perfectly fine. Anxious users respond differently. If you are chronically worried about somebody commenting on your sweater or your shoe choice on Facebook – or you’re spending hours trying to decipher if someone’s post was a joke or not – and it’s disturbing your sleep and you’re not eating right – and you’re doing this every day for weeks and months – that can have a negative effect on your health.

“As more individuals are interacting online it’s important to understand how these interactions might influence their health. Ultimately, a better understanding of these interactions will help guide how to maximize the positive and limit the negative impacts of social media.”

Published in the journal “Computers in Human Behavior,” Campisi and his team of eight undergraduate students followed 89 students ages 18 to 22 for 10 weeks during a recent fall semester. Most of the subjects were female, and all reported good health at the study onset. Each participant was asked to fill out a weekly health assessment. The study found that 55 percent of respondents had at least one URI, and of those who reported that using Facebook made them anxious, the average number of infections was two.

“The number of upper respiratory infections doubled,” said Campisi, “and if you think about it, if you’re a first- or second-year college student and you’re wiped out for two or three weeks due to a URI, it could have a detrimental effect on your studies and your life.”

The study also found a correlation between social network size and incidence of URIs: The greater the number of Facebook friends, the more URIs the subject experienced. Study subjects with the highest Facebook friend counts also reported the highest amounts of Facebook-related stress.

 “People who had a thousand or more ‘friends’ were the most anxious and had the highest number of URIs,” Campisi said, who measured up to five URIs in some study subjects. “That’s a pretty sick person – to have five URIs over the course of 10 weeks.”                  

The incidence of URIs was examined because the illness is easily spread in close living quarters, such as on college campuses, and for its longtime use in face-to-face social-interaction studies.

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Regis University is a premier, globally engaged institution of higher learning in the Jesuit tradition that prepares leaders to live productive lives of faith, meaning and service. Regis University has four campus locations in the Denver metro area and Colorado Springs with more than 11,000 enrolled students. For more information, visit www.regis.edu.