A recent article explores the associations of preventative behaviors against the flu with sociodemographic factors among American adults.
Influenza, more commonly known as the flu, is a contagious respiratory disease that is caused by influenza viruses. The infection causes several symptoms, which include fever, fatigue, coughing, and aches. Sometimes the flu can be quite severe, especially in children and the elderly, and can even lead to death.
How can we avoid catching the flu?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that every person over the age of six months should get vaccinated against the seasonal flu each influenza season. However, influenza vaccination coverage is chronically below the optimal rates and targets defined by the U.S. and Canadian governments. Vaccination is the best method to avoid catching the disease, but in addition to vaccination, there are everyday actions that can be taken to prevent the infection and spread of influenza. For example, staying home when sick, covering one’s face when coughing, washing hands frequently, and staying well-rested and hydrated, are all measures that can prevent the spread of influenza.
Improving our understanding of preventative social behaviors can help public health institutions better plan influenza prevention campaigns and recommendations. Accordingly, a group from the University of California San Diego studied how American adults practiced preventative behaviors from the 2015 National Internet Flu Survey. Using this data, the scientists studied the relationships between these behaviors and sociodemographic factors and reported their findings in PLoS ONE.
The internet survey, sponsored by the CDC, was conducted online in 2015 and contained questions that probed the respondent’s knowledge, attitudes, and precautionary behaviors related to influenza and influenza vaccination. Other characteristics such as demographic and access-to-care information were also obtained in the survey. Among those surveyed, approximately 40% reported having received an influenza vaccination. Furthermore, over half of the respondents reported they washed hands often, avoided people who are sick, used hand sanitizers, covered coughs, and sneezes, stayed home if sick, and received medical treatment in order to avoid catching or spreading the flu. Other commonly reported preventative behaviors were to get an influenza vaccination, take vitamins, and use face masks.
Handwashing was the most common preventative measure
Notably, receiving the flu vaccine was not among the most common precautionary measures taken. Over 83% of people reported handwashing, but under 50% reported getting the flu vaccine. After performing statistical analyses using models that consider multiple variables, the authors of the study determined a few characteristics that were independently associated with getting a vaccine to avoid catching the flu: age of over 50 years, female, being outside of the workforce, and annual household income of greater than $75,000.
Although vaccination remains the optimal method to prevent catching the flu, additional measures can be taken to help prevent getting and spreading the disease. This study provides insightful data on the various preventive behaviors of American adults. Public health institutions can use this information as a basis to better target their efforts to raise public awareness of flu vaccination and prevention strategies. Further research into this area will help us gain a stronger understanding of the roles and impacts of preventive behaviors on influenza transmission.
Written by Branson Chen, BHSc
Reference: Srivastav A, Santibanez TA, Lu PJ, Stringer MC, Dever JA, Bostwick M, Kurtz MS, Qualls NL, Williams WW. Preventive behaviors adults report using to avoid catching or spreading influenza, United States, 2015-16 influenza season. PloS one. 2018 Mar 30;13(3):e0195085.