Swine flu media coverage 'reassured public'

Media coverage of the swine flu outbreak reassured people and promoted important public health behaviour, research suggests.

The study, funded by the DoH’s National Institute for Health Research, found that, rather than ‘scaremongering’, reports and adverts about swine flu reduced public concern.

Researchers analysed 36 telephone surveys of over 38,000 people and showed coverage made people more likely to engage in helpful, protective behaviours such as hand washing.

Co-author Henry Potts of University College London Medical School said: ‘Exposure to media coverage or advertising about swine flu increased the perceived effectiveness of behaviours such as tissue carrying or buying hand gel, but reduced the perceived effectiveness of strategies such as avoiding public transport.’

This meant coverage and advertising broadly had a positive effect on behaviours recommended by the government.

Mr Potts added: ‘This demonstrates that when levels of public worry are generally low, increasing the volume of mass media and advertising coverage is likely to increase how effective people think certain behaviours are and so increase their uptake.’

However, only about 56% of people interviewed were very or fairly likely to accept the swine flu vaccination 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.

The authors said: 'Our results suggest that, while providing information that relates to the outbreak is unlikely to increase uptake, messages that highlight people’s concerns and worries about the illness in question may be effective.

'In addition, highlighting the efficacy of vaccination may also be an effective way to increase uptake. In this study, people who incorrectly believed that the seasonal flu vaccine would be effective against swine flu were more likely to say that they would accept it.'

Stephen Robinson

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