The Cavalier Daily
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Stuffed Up in a Hotel Room

Instead of spending Spring Break soaking up sun on an exotic beach, some University students are keeping their fingers crossed, hoping they can spend their week secluded in a hotel room with a runny nose and a cough.

Why would perfectly sane students prefer having a cold for five days to taking a vacation? The answer is simple: the money. That's $800 tax-free to be exact.

"This is the easiest money in the world," said fourth-year College student Courtney Carr, who has participated in three cold studies and hopes to qualify for the upcoming Spring Break study.

"If I don't get it, there goes $800," Carr said.

For the cold study's preliminary screening process, Carr had a small amount of blood drawn. The sample will be tested to determine if she has the antibodies for the particular virus being studied. If not, she will qualify for the study and might be looking forward to a quiet week of sneezing, isolated in one of Charlottesville's finest hotels.

"It's a good chance to kick back and relax for a few days," said Dr. J. Owen Hendley, a professor of pediatrics who is involved with the University's cold studies. The cold studies are done under the direction of Dr. Jack Gwaltney, the head of the division of epidemiology and virology in the Department of Internal Medicine.

"We treat folks pretty nicely," Hendley said.

Hendley explained that studies - called natural cold studies - can be done on people who already are ill with a particular cold virus. He also can inoculate people with a particular virus to study various cold treatments.

Pat Beasley, a nurse who has been involved with the studies for 20 years, said some students who become regular participants get upset if they are immune to the virus being tested and do not qualify for a particular study.

For the upcoming cold study, volunteers will be inoculated with the virus through their noses and will then receive a nasal spray treatment. Hendley said the treatments have been "tested extensively for safety."

This and other past similar cold studies require the volunteer to stay alone inside a hotel room for a period of time.

"Your boyfriend or girlfriend can't come to visit" in the hotel room, Hendley joked. There is, however, plenty of television, food and time to study and sleep, he added.

Kimberly Hanks, a third-year Engineering graduate student, has participated in several studies, two of which were in hotels during school breaks. She said that, although the money was her primary motivation, she enjoyed the peace and quiet of the hotel room.

"You get paid for an enforced solitary confinement type of vacation," Hanks said with a laugh.

"If you like yourself and can stand yourself for six days and five nights, it's easy money," into your hotel room, said Beasley, who supervises about five cold studies per year and works with Gwaltney.

"You can bring anything you want as long as it doesn't breathe" into your hotel room, Beasley said. "We've had rowing machines, sewing machines ... [and] computers."

She added that many volunteers pass the time by taking hot baths or sleeping. Students always intend to study, she said, but many end up procrastinating and don't do work until the last day.

Although the quiet study time is a perk for some students, Beasley emphasized that students participate in cold studies primarily for the money.

For fourth-year College student Pelin Demirhan, who has not yet participated in a cold study, a week of paid downtime is more appealing than taking off for the beach or a Spring Break road trip.

"That would be spending money. This is making money," she said as she signed her name to a list of volunteers and headed down a long corridor in Cobb Hall - a building across from the Elson Student Health Center - to have her blood drawn.

Hendley explained that $300 is the average compensation for cold studies, but the amount varies depending on which drug company sponsors the study.

"We want to make it just high enough that it's hard to pass up," Hendley said. "But not so high as to be obscene."

Along with the big bucks, Beasley said participants get three meals a day and snacks, along with "lots of TLC" from the nurses.

Some of these cold study regulars also have formed friendships with some of the nurses, Beasley said.

"Pat Beasley is wonderful," Hanks said. "... She's like my mom."

Carr participated in a four-day hotel cold study two years ago, and, although she did it for the money, she said, "At this point, I like Pat, so I would do it if she asked."

Carr recalled the "precious two minutes" of each day during the study when volunteers were permitted to venture out into the hall to receive their medicine.

"We would ask each other, 'How snotty are you?'" Carr said. "You know, cold study talk."

"One guy brought a small refrigerator, and another girl brought lots of snacks," she said. "I wish I had thought of that."

Hanks also remembered some of her unique cold study experiences.

"They make you save your used tissues in a plastic bag and then they weigh them," she said laughing at the bizarre memory.

She said the tissues were pre-weighed and then weighed again later to determine the amount of mucous collected.

The good times and the fast money may be hard for some students to resist, but others find the idea of the cold studies slightly disturbing.

"I thought it would be a way to earn some fast cash without doing something strenuous," said first-year College student Jami English, who signed up for the Spring Break study.

But upon learning that the study involved having a cold and staying in a hotel, English said he concluded, "I didn't feel comfortable with it."

English said the study sounded a little extreme, and the money was not worth the risks.

Second-year College student Sanjay Rupani agreed.

"It sounds like a bad way to spend Spring Break," Rupani said. "My health isn't worth any amount of money."

Wary students can still earn in a natural cold study. Participants who have already contracted colds are tested without spending time in a hotel.

Rupani, who participated in a natural cold study, said he was more comfortable with the natural process, which pays $30 a month for recording health symptoms.

"You don't even have to get sick" to get paid, natural cold study participant Greg Payne, a second-year College student, explained.

If somebody does catch a cold during a natural cold study, he is directed to call Beasley and the other nurses immediately to begin a cold treatment.

Payne said that after he caught a cold, he used nasal spray, recorded his daily symptoms for two weeks and then received about $200.

And despite taking "very uncomfortable" nasal spray, Payne said the study was relatively easy and not restrictive.

"I loved the money," Payne said with a smile.

Whether their time is spent snoozing in a hotel room or taking a minute to jot down daily symptoms, it can pay to be sick for some University students.


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