01.02.2010 Flu pandemic: Swiss population well informed

Survey. More and more people in Switzerland are taking steps to protect themselves from flu by improving hygiene. By contrast, the popularity of vaccination has declined, as a representative survey carried out in November 2009 reveals.

Pictures Flu pandemic: Swiss population well informed

TODO CHRISTIAN

Since spring 2009, the issue of pandemic flu has been very much in the public eye. In order to measure public awareness of the issue, the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) commissioned the DemoSCOPE institute to carry out three recurring surveys in June, August and November 2009. The results of the most recent survey reveal a positive development in terms of knowledge and protective behaviour.

80% taking protective measures
The vast majority of those surveyed knew that the virus is spread via droplet-borne infection or physical contact (e.g. shaking hands). Knowledge levels are currently highest in German-speaking Switzerland and lowest in Ticino. Four out of five survey respondents (81%) are taking conscious steps to protect themselves from infection. In June 2009, this percentage was still markedly smaller: only just above half (51%) of those surveyed in June reported taking steps to prevent infection. 75% of all respondents are relying on personal hygiene measures for prevention, and a good 50% are generally paying attention to their health. Compared with the earlier surveys, the popularity of these two approaches has grown once again. Barely 10% of those surveyed have opted for vaccination against seasonal flu.

Willingness to have a vaccination decreased
At the time of the survey, 12% of respondents said that they wanted to get themselves vaccinated against swine flu. In the case of women, older respondents, single persons and persons living in rural regions, the proportion was only 8 to 9%. Overall, willingness to have a vaccination has declined compared to the previous surveys. The main reasons given were insufficient knowledge about the safety of the vaccine and the relative mildness of the flu cases seen thus far.

Differences in information needs
The vast majority of all those surveyed (95%) voiced their support for the FOPH information campaign launched in July 2009. The profile of this campaign has risen steadily, first and foremost through television and press exposure. However, opinion seemed divided with regard to how much and what type of information should be provided. 56% of those surveyed felt that the swine flu information being provided by the FOPH was «just right». However, the proportion of those who felt that there was too much information had almost doubled since the first survey in June, from 18% to 32%. Demand for more or better information is primarily focused on the risk represented by the virus and the danger of mutation, but people also want to know about current levels of knowledge and the symptoms of the disease. The demand for vaccine-related information has also increased markedly. At regional level, the appetite for information in French-speaking Switzerland is much higher than in either of the other Swiss regions.

Doctors primary source of information
Survey respondents were obtaining swine flu information primarily from television and the press, followed by the Internet. In the case of older individuals and those living in rural locations, radio replaces the Internet as an important source of information. However, the survey also showed that the spectrum of information channels widens significantly in times of crisis, and their ranking changes: in this case, the doctor remains the first port of call for information, followed by television, Internet and radio.

Question mark over protection of at-risk groups
The results of the November survey imply that the efforts of the various health bodies and the FOPH information campaign have made a significant contribution to the fight against the flu pandemic. Today, the Swiss population is very well informed about the various transmission routes and the recommended protective measures, and this know­ledge is being increasingly applied in everyday life. However, the population’s reluctance regarding vaccination and the growing sense of information overload could put a question mark over the protection of at-risk groups.

Contact

Adrian Kammer and Valérie Maertens, Campaigns Section, adrian.kammer@bag.admin.ch, valerie.maertens@bag.admin.ch

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