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Original Research

Pandemic flu knowledge among dormitory housed university students: a need for informal social support and social networking strategies

Submitted: 18 May 2010
Revised: 7 September 2010
Published: 26 October 2010

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Author(s) : Wilson SL, Huttlinger K.

Susan WilsonKathleen Huttlinger

Citation: Wilson SL, Huttlinger K.  Pandemic flu knowledge among dormitory housed university students: a need for informal social support and social networking strategies. Rural and Remote Health (Internet) 2010; 10: 1526. Available: (Accessed 18 October 2017)


Introduction:  The declaration of a Phase 6 pandemic of influenza A (H1N1) by the World Health Organization in June 2009, triggered the activation of preparedness responses worldwide. During 2009 spring and fall, many US universities actuated their emergency pandemic preparedness plans. This article describes a research study that used a modified community based participatory research (CBPR) approach between August and November 2009 at New Mexico State University’s main Las Cruces campus to determine influenza (pandemic influenza A (H1N1) 2009 and seasonal influenza knowledge, attitudes, and health communication (informal support networks and social networking) strategies specifically related to influenza among dormitory housed (on-campus living) undergraduate students. The goal was to produce data for use in the university’s pandemic illness/disaster preparedness and response plans.
Methods:  Following activation of the university’s campus-wide efforts to educate students about pandemic flu, university community partners were asked for input regarding information for flu preparedness for the university’s undergraduate students. Student participants were recruited for the present study from those housed in four campus dormitories. A purposive convenience sample was used to collect survey data from 175 students during the peak week of reported flu cases on campus. Each participant was given an anonymous, face-to-face, self-administered survey and 167 surveys were able to be analyzed. A χ2 goodness of fit test was used to determine whether observed proportions of categorical variables differed from hypothesized proportions.
Results:  Four categorical data were analyzed by topics: (1) demographics; (2) flu awareness; (3) flu immunization knowledge and practices; and (4) communication and health information practices. The average age was 19.6 years (SD = 1.8), with no significant differences by sex (86 males and 76 females, 5 undisclosed) or race/ethnicity (57 White, 43 Hispanic, 44 Other). All questions were tested with χ2 against sex, race, and dormitory; however, only three questions revealed statistically significant differences by any of these demographic categories.
Conclusions:  Sex, race, age, and dormitory were demonstrated to have little impact on H1N1 health practices and knowledge. Three-quarters of students surveyed demonstrated awareness of the pandemic 2009 H1N1 flu. Despite public health and university health education campaigns, approximately 25% were not aware of the virus. Most students stated that they knew someone who had flu during the year, even if they had not. Students did not perceive (60%) dormitory living to be a greater health risk, even though the proximal distance among students diminishes by sharing bathrooms and sleeping quarters. Three main factors affected the students’ knowledge, attitudes and behaviors: faculty attitudes and influenza knowledge; low levels of flu like illnesses at the university; and the utilization of health education strategies inconsistent with the mechanisms students use to gain health information (informal support networks and electronic social networking). Failure to utilize these student information mechanisms may result in less than optimal health education effectiveness. Health educators should ensure that identifiable intermediaries (eg faculty) understand and assist in health education efforts. However, the incidence of H1N1 at this university was relatively low, which may have affected the research results.

Key words:  health education, informal support networks, modified community based participatory research (CBPR), pandemic influenza A (H1N1) 2009, university dormitory residence.

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