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Public 'reassured' by swine flu media coverage

23 July 2010

The swine flu (influenza A H1N1v) pandemic of 2009 created considerable media coverage and some degree of public anxiety. Until a vaccine was developed, behavioural strategies by the general public were the main defence against further spread, so it was important that the public were well-informed about the pandemic and what they could do. Much concern was expressed at the time about the media, and indeed the Government, possibly sensationalising what was happening.

However, a new UCL study suggests that media coverage and advertising broadly reduced public concern at an individual level and improved the uptake of useful behaviours. The study was funded by a NHS National Institute for Health Research grant to Prof. Susan Michie (Research Department of Clinical, Educational and Health Psychology) and CHIME's own Dr Henry Potts. It is published today in Health Technology Assessment.

Based on a series of 36 telephone surveys of the general public, the research found that, generally, the public showed low levels of behaviour change, a concern for the future if more serious pandemics follow. For example, only 56% of the public said they would have the swine flu vaccine if offered it. They were more likely to accept it if they were worried about the possibility of themselves or their child catching swine flu.

Rubin GJ, Potts HWW, Michie S (2010). The impact of communications about swine flu (influenza A H1N1v) on public responses to the outbreak: Results from 36 national telephone surveys in the UK. Health Technology Assessment, 14(34), 183-266. doi: 10.3310/hta14340-03 Full-text available free Contact: Henry Potts

Links: Health Technology Assessment pandemic flu themed issue, Full UCL News story