New study tracks mono in college students

Olivia Exstrum, Reporter

A new study through the Feinberg School of Medicine and Northwestern University Health Services will investigate infectious mononucleosis in college students to determine why some college students continue to have symptoms after recovering from the disease.

“A little more than 10 percent of people after mono will have lingering symptoms of six months or more, like chronic fatigue and trouble concentrating,” said Dr. Ben Katz, one of the study’s principal investigators.  “Is it something about the severity of the mono, or is it something about the students?”

The study, which is sponsored by a grant from the National Institutes of Health, has two principal investigators, including Katz, a professor of pediatrics in the Feinberg School of Medicine and an attending physician at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, and Dr. Leonard Jason, a professor of psychology at DePaul University and the director of the Center for Community Research.

About 10 percent of college students will develop mono and a little more than 10 percent of these students will never recover. Individuals with a higher socioeconomic status are often not exposed to the Epstein-Barr virus — which can cause mono — as children, and therefore are more likely to come into contact with it as young adults, Katz said. The study hopes to eventually enroll about 6,000 healthy students who have never had mono before.

“A college campus is the perfect place to study this,” Katz said. “The goal is to figure out why some people have trouble recovering and why most people don’t.”

The study will occur in three stages. In stage one, interested students will fill out a questionnaire and an online consent form. Students involved will then go to Searle Hall to sign a formal consent form and donate blood. Each student who completes stage one receives $100 in compensation.

If a student develops mono after the first stage, then they will take part in stage two. During this part of the study, after students give their consent to continue participating, their medical records are reviewed and they are asked to fill out another questionnaire and donate more blood. If students continue to show symptoms of mono past a normal recovery time, they then advance to stage three, and undergo an examination. During this time, they fill out an additional questionnaire and give a final blood sample. Students receive an additional $100 for each stage they complete.

Although Katz and his colleagues originally were concerned about how they were going to recruit students for the study, he said once they began sending out emails to freshmen the information spread through “word of mouth.”  After recruiting for about a month, he said about a hundred students signed up to participate thus far.

“We’ve had no trouble getting students to come in,” he said. “Obviously, the financial incentive helps.”

Weinberg freshman Ben Kruger, who has never had mono before, said he found out about the study after his roommate forwarded him the email. He said after participating in the study he encouraged many of his friends to sign up as well.

“(My roommate) made $100 for a half hour of his time, so I thought it was a pretty good idea,” Kruger said.

Like Kruger, Communication freshman Treyvon Thomas was convinced to participate by the financial incentive. Thomas said after he learned of the study he “literally told all of (his) friends about it.”

“I told everyone I saw to do it,” he said. “It’s a pretty quick and easy $100.”

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