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Clin Infect Dis. 2005 May 1;40(9):1263-70. Epub 2005 Mar 31.

Colds and influenza-like illnesses in university students: impact on health, academic and work performance, and health care use.

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Medicine Service, Veterans' Affairs Medical Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55417, USA.



Upper respiratory tract illnesses (URIs) are a major cause of morbidity among adults, with substantial direct and indirect costs to society, but their impact among university students has not been well described. We sought to assess the impact of URIs (colds and influenza-like illnesses [ILIs]) on the health, academic and work performance, and health care use of university students.


This was a cohort study of college students at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities campus (Minneapolis-St. Paul), who were recruited during October 2002 and followed up from November 2002 through April 2003. All 42,000 registered students were invited via e-mail to participate. Baseline information was obtained in October 2002. Monthly follow-up information about colds or ILIs was obtained for the period of November 2002 through April 2003. Data were collected by use of Internet-based questionnaires.


Of 4919 volunteers, 3249 completed all follow-up surveys. The mean age was 22.7 years; 68% of the volunteers were female. Ninety-one percent had > or = 1 URI (83% had > or = 1 cold, and 36.7% had > or = 1 ILI). These URIs caused 6023 bed-days, 4263 missed school days, 3175 missed work days, and 45,219 days of illness. Of the cohort, 22.2% had > or = 1 health care visit, and 15.8% used antibiotics to treat a URI; 27.8% did poorly on a test and 46.3% did poorly on a class assignment. ILIs versus colds had a much greater impact on all parameters (e.g., general health level was 55%-60% lower with ILI vs. no URI and 33%-39% lower for colds vs. no URI; P < .001 for each).


Colds and ILIs were common and associated with substantial morbidity in university students. Enhanced efforts to prevent and control URIs, especially influenza vaccination, could improve the health and well-being of the 17 million college and university students in this country.

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