RPI's "beer pong" flu: a highly transmissible story

weekend update

The story was mentioned on SNL's Weekend Update this past weekend.

The media are pretty much defenseless against stories like the recent "RPI beer pong flu" story. No journalistic immune system can withstand a story that combines such topicality, weirdness, a health scare and drunk college students. And once stories like this find a host, they're pretty much guaranteed to spread -- often mutating along the way.

The RPI story was no exception. It's spread all over the media world during the last week and a a half. Given that we're pretty sure we know the index case, we thought it'd be interesting/fun to do some media epidemiology.

Watch as some of the facts mutate during the spread. That original RPI campus email makes no mention of beer pong (just drinking games), nor does it "ban" such games.

October 9

RPInsider: RPI Has 14 Active H1N1 Cases, 21 Total; Dr. Lawrence: Stop Playing Drinking Games
source: campus email
symptom: "The Health Center recommends that students refrain from drinking games to halt the spread of the virus."
(The index case?)

AOA: Losers get H1N1. Maybe the winners, too.
source: RPInsider's campus email post
symptom: from blockquote of email: "Unfortunately, some of our current cases were apparently contracted during a weekend drinking game."

October 12

UPI: College drinking games can spread H1N1 flu
source: cites campus email
symptom: "A Troy, N.Y., university is directing its students to knock off post-football drinking games because alcohol does not kill the H1N1 flu, officials said."

October 13

TU: Beer pong: unkindest cup of all?
source: cites campus email
symptom: "Your hands are washed and you're sneezing into your arm while you stay 6 feet away from anyone who looks sick. Now the H1N1 has another way to lay you low: no more beer pong."

AP: RPI: Can drinking games during flu season
source: cites campus email
symptom: "Officials at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy says several cases of the H1N1 infection have been linked to sharing cups during games such as beer pong."

NYDN: Upstate New York college, Rensselaer Polytechnic, blames beer pong for swine flu outbreak
source: none cited
symptom: "The director of health care at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute outside Albany banned beer pong after several students got swine flu over the weekend from playing the popular drinking game."

WNYT: RPI warns beer pong spreads H1N1
source: RPI email, interviews with students
symptom: "A local college with nearly two dozen confirmed cases of swine flu is asking all students, including those of age, to lay off the drinking games."

Fox5 (NYC): Flu Outbreak Blamed On Beer Pong
source: none cited
symptom: "Doctors linked several of the cases to specific social events on campus, such as football games and weekend parties. Some of the cases were apparently contracted during a weekend drinking game."

Chronicle of Higher Ed blog: Beer Pong and Swine Flu Make for a Nasty Hangover
source: TU
symptom: "A number of faculty and staff members have experienced flu-like symptoms as well. Presumably beer pong was not the culprit."

WPIX (NYC TV): College Bans Drinking Games In Light of Swine Flu Virus
source: none cited
symptom: "It's a part of almost every college student's career, but in an effort to prevent the spread of swine flu, one college in upstate New York is banning drinking games."

amNew York: College drinking games are latest swine flu victim
source: none cited, no links
symptom: "A recent outbreak at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy was traced to a game of beer pong, prompting the administration to send out a e-mail warning that included the debunking of a campus rumor about how alcohol protects against flu."

Fox29 (Philadelphia TV): Beer Pong Banned Amid Flu Concerns
source: none cited
symptom: "Officials say no more beer pong because it could be to blame for the spread of the Swine Flu on campus."

Huffington Post: Beer Pong Swine Flu Victim: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Warns Against Beirut To Prevent H1N1 Spread
source: TU, AP
symptom: "Swine flu has claimed its latest victim: beer pong."

October 14

Medill Reports (Northwestern U regional news service): College drinking games blamed for swine flu outbreaks
source: none cited
symptom: "Area college campuses may follow the lead of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, which has told students they are no longer permitted to play beer pong, a popular social drinking game."

Long Island Press: Sound Smart at a Party for the Week of October 15 - October 21
source: none cited
symptom: "Medical officials at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute upstate want students to close the tap on drinking games to prevent the spread of swine flu."

Digital City (AOL): Pig Pong: Is a Drinking Game Spreading Swine Flu?
source: none cited, but it links to RPI's flu page
symptom: "Perhaps instead of banning beer pong from schools, we should be trying to come up with a way to make beer pong safer. One thought: beer pong condoms."

TresSugar: Game Over: Beer Pong Spreading Swine Flu
source: TU
symptom: "Frat boys have been called pigs before, but now they might be responsible for spreading swine flu. College partiers are being warned that they can catch H1N1 from beer pong."

Injury Board blog (personal injury lawyers site): Swine Flu Puts an End to Beer Pong and Other Drinking Games
source: none cited
symptom: "Cups and balls are frequently reused and rarely cleaned. Needless to say, germs are shared in staggering amounts."

October 15

Inside Higher Ed: Swine Flu's Ebbs and Flows
source: cites October 9 campus email
symptom: "RPI is different from some places, though, for conceding that H1N1 has spread in places less savory than lecture halls, libraries and community service projects."

Press of Atlantic City education blog: Beer pong latest swine flu victim
source: TU
symptom: "The college health services center medical director warned that alcohol does not kill the virus, and sharing cups or bottles is pretty much just asking to get sick."

Atlanta Journal Constitution blog: Weekend Predictions: Bees, Birds and beer pong!
source: none cited
symptom: "School officials have determined that the swine flu is being passed around on campus because too many students are playing beer pong (not yet a scholarship sport) and drinking from the same cups. So they've banned the game!"

October 17

NYT: Flu Fears Curb Life's Rituals (front page on October 18)
source: none cited
symptom: "Students at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., are being asked to refrain from playing beer pong, a communal drinking game, after an outbreak of illness that officials feared might be swine flu."

Saturday Night Live: Weekend Update

source: none cited
symptom: "It could have been the result of another popular college drinking game: make out with a stranger."

October 19

UNLV student newspaper: Prevent the flu with a little common sense
source: NYT
symptom: "The New York Times reports that students at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. have been warned against playing beer pong, as sharing cups in the social drinking game is a (bafflingly obvious) way of spreading flu and other illness."

Indiana State student newspaper: Drinking games risky during flu season
source: none cited
symptom: "A recent study by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in New York warns students to avoid beer pong, a college drinking game."

This is certainly not a comprehensive survey of all the media outlets that have mentioned the story (we searched through Google News for items -- a better search could be done through Nexis). But it's probably a pretty good representation of the overall trend.

screengrab: NBC


I was always a flip-cup kinda gal. At least you get to use your own cup.

You just never know, huh?

I guess the embarrassment serves RPI right for trying to get away with being called "Rensselaer"... c'mon, people... it's RPI!

'make out with a stranger'?!?!? At RPI? Clarly they have never been to RPI. Unless, of course, it was to go to a Players party...

Komrade '85

Go Big Red!

Fight! Fight! Fight! You White! White! White! (blood cells)

And don't forget, the Boston Herald stated that staff was recommended NOT to play drinking games, either.

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