The “Hotel Influenza” probably won’t appear in any of your Priceline searches for St. Louis, Missouri. If it does, then it better not charge you any money.
No, instead the Extended Stay Research Unit at St. Louis University’s (SLU) Center for Vaccine Development (dubbed the “Hotel Influenza” in their press release written by Nancy Solomon) will pay you around $3500 (which also will cover travel expenses) to stay in hotel-style rooms, equipped with private bathrooms, televisions, the Internet, and common areas with comfy chairs. You also get catered meals in the dining room and kitchen area, access to exercise equipment, and nice views of the St. Louis Arch.
Let’s see, what else? Oh, at the “Hotel Influenza,” you get intentionally exposed to the influenza virus. Such a lovely place.
Anything unusual about these arrangements? Not used to having comfy chairs? Think televisions are unusual in a hotel? Oh, yes, you are wondering why you need to get exposed to the flu virus?
That’s the catch, or what you may catch, when staying at the “Hotel Influenza.” The Unit is for conducting human challenge studies. In a human challenge study, humans are deliberately exposed to something, usually unpleasant or potentially harmful. That’s why it is called a “challenge” study rather than a “wonderful feeling” study or “easy street” study and you don’t tend to hear of compliment or yummy food challenge studies.
In this case, if you volunteer, you first receive a flu vaccine or a placebo (i.e., a fake vaccine) and then later get exposed to the flu virus. For example, someone may shove the flu virus up your nose. Researchers can culture the flu virus in a lab and put it on a big Q-tip, which then goes right up your nostril. Yes, any time of year, any time of year, you can find flu here.
Then, the research staff is programmed to receive, following and testing you to see if you actually develop the flu and flu symptoms. You can’t quite check out any time you’d like. The study lasts long enough to ensure that you are no longer shedding virus (usually about ten days) and thus may infect others outside the research unit.