Kimberly Kelly and Daniel Taylor
Because past research has shown that flu vaccinations are not always effective, two health psychologists will examine if insomnia, which affects approximately 10 to 15 percent of college students, decreases college students' immune response to the influenza vaccine.
During the 2009 outbreak of the H1N1 influenza virus, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention added college students, particularly those who live in student housing, to the list of groups who should receive priority for yearly flu vaccinations. Previously, the list included the elderly, children ages 6 months to 18 years old, pregnant women and those of any age with certain chronic medical conditions.
Kimberly Kelly and Daniel Taylor, both associate professors of psychology in the Clinical Health Psychology doctoral program, received a $442,838 grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a division of the National Institutes of Health.
Taylor and Kelly will recruit 64 students with insomnia and 64 students without insomnia to participate in the study.
All students participating in the study will be age 18 to 29 and complete sleep diaries for one week to help the researchers determine the severity of their insomnia, or confirm if they do have insomnia to be part of the study.
At the Student Health and Wellness Center doctors will determine if students have any health problems that also may exclude them from the study, including health problems that may cause insomnia.
Taylor, director of UNT's Sleep and Health Research Laboratory, defines insomnia as difficulty sleeping several times a week, despite adequate opportunity to sleep, for at least three months.
Kelly says that although college students tend to have erratic sleeping habits because they may work evening and nighttime shifts and stay up late to study, insomnia is much different from sleep deprivation. When insomnia becomes a chronic disorder, it could act as a stressor on the immune system, she says.
Taylor added that if insomnia becomes a major stressor and is no longer a result of daily stressors, then insomnia should result in reduced effectiveness of the influenza vaccine via suppressed antibody responses to the viral strains.
Students will have their blood drawn at the Student Health and Wellness Center before and after receiving influenza vaccines developed for the 2011-12 flu season. Kelly says this year's vaccine, which is now available, was developed based on the three most prominent flu strains found in Asia during winter 2010-2011, and includes the H1N1 strain responsible for the 2009 pandemic.
Four to five weeks after receiving the vaccines, the students will return to the health center for researchers to determine their antibody response to the strains of flu in the vaccine.
"There is no guarantee that students won't be exposed to other strains of flu that are not included in the seasonal vaccine and become sick," Kelly says.
All students who participate in the study will receive financial compensation for each phase of the study. Research results will be available during the spring of 2013.
Nancy Kolsti with UNT News Service can be reached at Nancy.Kolsti@unt.edu.